CD Review: The Only Way by Greater Vision

This is my first Greater Vision project ever. I’m just starting to get into the group, so my review may be a little different from the many others that have been posted. This is the opinion of somebody coming to GV’s music with fresh ears. Hopefully that’ll get you to read this even though everybody and his uncle has already reviewed the album. Enjoy!

1. He Didn’t When He Could Have Passed By (Griffin): Perfect country/gospel opener. Brisk fiddles get things going at a satisfying clip, providing a catchy setting for a thoughtful lyric about Jesus’ choices to stop and care for people’s needs when He could have let their cries go unanswered. As the lyric points out, “With every step he took, the cross was heavy on His mind.” Yet He heard the cry of the blind man: “Do not pass me by.” The second verse then makes the natural comparison to our own sinfulness and need for a Savior, who did not pass us by either.

One thing I did find somewhat odd is the repeated line in the chorus saying, “He could have passed by the little boy who had died, left him laying in the way.” I believe it’s meant to refer to the story of the widow’s dead son. But number one, he wasn’t a little boy, he was a young man (which is why his mother’s plight was so desperate—as a widow, she now had nobody to support her), and number two, he wasn’t just “laying in the way,” his body was being carried away for burial. However, this really is a fun song to listen to, and there are several key changes to keep the interest going.

2. Safe Within His Hand (Allman): A mellow Chris Allman song makes a smooth listen. It’s very leisurely overall, but Chris sings a strong and confident second verse after a key change to give it a bit of excitement. Short but sweet.

3. No Longer Chained (Griffin): This song’s historical blooper has already been noted by Daniel Mount. It uses the Roman practice of chaining a soldier to a prisoner to create a story-song about one such soldier who was saved through Paul’s testimony (which naturally leads to a convenient double use of the phrase “no longer chained”). In the very first verse, it sets the stage by having the soldier come home and tell his wife and children about meeting Paul for the first time. The problem is that this would never have happened, because Roman soldiers weren’t allowed to marry and have families.

There have been varying opinions on whether this anachronism matters, but I find it distracting. “Hugged his wife and kids and said ‘I’m home…’ ” Now I’m imagining them all around the dinner table on the day he gets saved: “So guys, what were your three good things for the day? […] That’s awesome! Well, I guess it’s my turn now…” See? It just doesn’t work. Then the bridge asks us to imagine other soldiers like him and “what they might have gone on home from work to share.” It’s all through the song. So ultimately, a good idea (probably inspired by Philippians where Paul says, “It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ”) with nice music and some good lyrics, but an awkward setup.

4. I Know a Man Who Can (Campbell/Davis): Insert wild cheers, whistles, and screams here. This is EASILY the prime cut of the CD. I am serious: Think twice about listening to this one while driving, because you could end up having a Holy Ghost moment on the road, and then, well, “Jesus take the wheel” and all that.

This has hitherto been Kirk Talley’s signature song, but Chris Allman has officially stolen it. Southern Gospel has many great tenors, but few with a more effortlessly clear sound than Chris. As Aaron Swain once put it, he must have found the tenor singers’ fountain of youth, because he certainly shows no signs of aging. His flawless delivery combined with flawless production (a heavenly blend of piano, B-Hammond and electric guitar), make this a touch-down moment and a sure-fire future crowd favorite.

5. He’s the Only Way (Allman/Griffin): This is a very timely song, bringing welcome theological clarity when too many people are bringing fuzziness. It matter-of-factly brushes aside all the “many roads to heaven” nonsense and says plainly, “He’s not a good, not the best, but the only way.” And it’s heaps of fun, with a great “chicken-pickin’ ” electric guitar sound. One quibble: In the second verse, it discusses Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus and assumes that Nicodemus walked away with a complete Christian understanding of who Jesus was and the theology of salvation. This is a bit simplistic. No doubt Nicodemus walked away intrigued, with a growing realization that Jesus was not just another prophet, but he would hardly have had all his theological ducks so neatly in a row. (Incidentally, a fascinating Old/New Testament connection was recently brought to my attention regarding that passage, which I’ll probably write a post about one of these Sundays.) But overall, great lyric, and I love the 3rd verse:

Have you come by the way of the cross

Where atoning grace is found?

All of your gains been counted as loss,

Have you laid your burdens down?

You see, perfection’s required

To stay away from the fire

So call on Jesus’ name…

6. Like I Wish I’d Lived (Griffin): This is the first of three slow songs in a row, prompting some reviewers to complain that the CD’s tempo drags too much in the middle. I do have something of the same feeling and might not sit through all three before jumping around to one of the faster ones for a break. But it doesn’t seem like a huge deal. However, I’m puzzled, along with others, that this is the album’s first radio single. Yet I hasten to add that I really like the song. It’s a very poignant, simple prayer asking God to help us make up for any regrets we may carry with us from past mistakes. Plus, it’s sung by Chris Allman, and well, what more can you say?

7. But God (Griffin/LaBar): Gerald Wolfe sings this  reflective song about trials and God’s sovereignty, originally done by Legacy Five. It’s a good performance and a soothing sound, but they slow down the tempo from the original, which makes it run a little long. And even though the verses are sung in a minor key, the overall easy-listening country feel seems to clash a bit with the lyrics, which are trying to describe some pretty dark times of suffering. It’s a little hard to concentrate on a lyric like “The voice that once praised Him now groans through the tears/And questions, ‘Lord, where are you now?’ ” when an electric guitar is doing bluesy little licks in the background. Like David Bruce Murray, I might have preferred to replace this with another fast song. But Lari Goss’s strings do sound good here.

8. We Still Have to Pray (Griffin): This is one of my favorite songs on the record. The music is gorgeous, and Rodney Griffin’s voice sounds very rich. It uses the Old Testament story of Rebekah’s barrenness and Isaac’s prayer for her to make a moving illustration about waiting on the Lord. It reminds us that “even when we’re in God’s will, we still have to pray.” I thought the bridge was striking: “You’re wishing that the Lord would show you what’s in store. But He loves you way too much to let you lose your faith’s reward.” It’s just a really comforting song, a great encouragement for anyone seeking the Lord in a difficult time.

9. Eternity’s About to Begin (Allman): Injecting some welcome up-beat relief, this textbook toe-tapper begins with Chris Allman, Gerald Wolfe’s piano and the B-3 once again stealing the show black gospel style. It then picks up the pace and proceeds to hop along quite nicely, filled with imagery about the celebration that’s “waiting to begin.” The Imperials’ “First Morning in Heaven” (not to be confused with “First Day in Heaven”) is still my favorite song along these lines, but this one is enjoyable too. (Say, maybe Greater Vision should think about covering that Imperials song. It’s very Chris.)

10. Heaven Can’t Be Far Away (Hurst): If “I Know a Man Who Can” was Chris Allman’s “hallelujah, glory be” moment, this song is Gerald Wolfe’s. They’re covering themselves here, having first recorded this song 18 years ago. Gerald still knocks it out of the park today. Even in the studio, he can barely contain his excitement as the song ramps up to the climax. He practically takes you through the gates of pearl with him. Classic, classic stuff.

11. Another Child’s Coming Home (Allman): With all the songs that have been inspired by the prodigal son, somehow the theme never really gets old. This Allman-penned closer is a quiet, understated addition to the “prodigal son catalogue.” There’s a beautiful novel called Gilead where one of the central characters is a lonely prodigal son, and that book together with its companion novel Home has caused me to hear songs like this in a new way. You constantly want to tell the character, Jack, that he is loved, that he’s not worthless, and that he needs Jesus to right all the wrong in his life. His father desperately loves him, yet Jack struggles to accept grace, even after he comes home. Even though the song is more straightforward than the books (which are more complex than your average prodigal son-inspired piece), I still think the lyrics really capture the cry of the father’s heart in the story. He stands with open arms, truly overjoyed and eager to welcome the wayward child home, for no other reason but love.

Get his room prepared, because I know he’s tired

And when he gets here, I’m sure he’ll want to rest awhile

And if you need me, I’ll be out in the road

Because another child’s coming home…

Final thoughts: You can’t get much more quintessentially southern gospel than Greater Vision, and this album reminds me why I like the music so much. Griffin and Allman are churning out solid songs, and putting Allman back on tenor has given the group a huge shot in the arm vocally. Not that Kitson wasn’t a great singer, but I think I speak for everybody when I say “WELCOME BACK, CHRIS!” This album also promises good things for the group’s future from a production standpoint. Many artists are going to miss Lari Goss’s work as he pulls back for the sake of his health in the coming years, but if Gerald Wolfe’s production on this CD is any indication, Greater Vision should manage just fine. His touch is relaxed and sure.

I’m very glad to have this album, and I’m giving it 4. 5 stars. Go get it. (Unless you absolutely cannot stand southern gospel of course. Then you might not like it so much.)