Retro Review #3: It’s Just Like Heaven (Greater Vision)

The original Greater Vision had what I consider to be the best vocal blend of any trio in Southern Gospel history.  Gerald Wolfe, Mark Trammell, and Chris Allman are three of the greatest voices of southern gospel’s modern era, and what they had for those few short years was truly special.  There’s something about their sound that is easy on the ears and soothing on the soul.  Greater Vision’s music has never been about singing super-high notes  or rattling the speakers (which is admittedly hard to do with no bass singer), but singing in such a way to draw out the full power of their lyrics.  The original Greater Vision lineup’s music often had a traditional country-flavored sound, and usually lacked heavy orchestration.  And who needs orchestration with those voices?  The instrumentation said exactly what it should have said: “Hey, listen to these boys sing!”

I love all five albums released by this lineup, but it doesn’t get any better than their 1992 release, It’s Just Like Heaven.  I don’t think the quality of the singing is particularly better on this album (not to say it isn’t exquisite), but the song selection is superb, and sets it apart from the others in my mind.  There is a refreshing mix of new songs and classics, ballads and barn-burners, power and finesse.

1. “It’s Just Like Heaven”

I love the fact that Gerald Wolfe is, like me, a lover of old-fashioned convention-style music, and he has done as much as anyone in a major gospel group over the last 20 years to keep it in circulation.  Greater Vision has released four full albums worth of redback Church Hymnal songs, but before that, they usually included one on each project.  This album kicks off with the very first song in the Church Hymnal (page 2).  It is sung just how it is written (without the bass, of course), with energetic piano-heavy instrumentation, and a little electric guitar in the turnarounds.  I also love the fact that this isn’t one of those classics you hear every group do…it’s a song that needed to be revived in such fine fashion.

Personal song rating: 9 out of 10

2. “Always Enough”

Chris Allman gets a lot of time in the spotlight on this project (he has features in 5 of the 10 songs), starting with this Kirk Talley-penned track.  This song really sounds more to me like something the trio would have sung with the Jason Waldroup lineup, so in a way this is a look into the group’s future.  While Greater Vision has always keyed their songs relatively low, this one is sung in the even lower range commonly utilized by the Wolfe-Griffin-Waldroup version.  While the lyrics have a solid message, I’ll be honest and say this is the weakest song on the album to me…musically it doesn’t do too much for me.  But that’s not so bad considering the songs we’re comparing it to.

Personal song rating: 6 out of 10

3. “No Army Big Enough”

Another Kirk Talley number, this one moves at warp speed.  The instrumentation is defined by a frenetic electric guitar in the intro and interlude.  Trammell handles both verses, the first of which takes us back to the Red Sea, and the second of which is the application to us today.  There’s not a lot of attention-grabbing singing, just some serious toe-tapping.  Clocking in at 1:44, it’s over before you know it.

Personal song rating: 8 out of 10

4. “Nothing Is Impossible”

This is a typical original Greater Vision song: simple melody, simple lyrics, and a country sound.  Allman gets the first verse, while Wolfe takes the second an octave lower.  The last chorus is a delight, filled with some impressive sixth and seventh chords.  Nothin’ overly fancy though, just good singing all the way around.

Personal song rating: 8 out of 10

5. “There Is a River”

A lot of people have tried their hand at this neo-classic, but this is my favorite rendition.  There’s some piano and some light strings, but overall the orchestration is relatively minimal for this kind of song.  Musically, it’s all about letting Wolfe do what he does best: delivering a power ballad with that power lead voice.  Indeed, this is probably his second-most acclaimed performance, after “Champion of Love”.  At over six minutes, it’s a lengthy track, but you don’t even notice.

Personal song rating: 9 out of 10

6. “He Is Mine”

Greater Vision has only recorded a few Dianne Wilkinson songs over the years (I mean, they do have Rodney Griffin right there in the group), but when they do, it’s a great combination.  This is quite simply my favorite song the trio has ever recorded.  Trammell gets the feature, and hits a home run in the verses.  The chorus is punctuated perfectly in the middle by the phrase “I am blessed beyond all measure”.  After Trammell climbs the ladder at the end of the second verse, there is a thrilling modulation up a fourth, with Allman taking over the lead in the chorus.  I love everything about it.

Personal song rating: 10 out of 10

7. “Don’t Try to Tell Me”

The trio brings the country flavor back with this infectious tune.  Wolfe has the first verse, and Allman takes the second after another fourth interval modulation.  After the second verse, they begin the chorus backed only by clapping hands, which, of course, becomes contagious to the listener.  Just don’t try it while driving.  The instruments kick in for another round of chorus and a high finish.  This one is lots of fun.

Personal song rating: 9 out of 10

8. “Stand in Awe”

This powerful song has the most progressive arrangement on the project.  (Keep in mind that is relative.)  Trammell sings the first verse, followed immediately by a whole step change up to the second verse, sung by Wolfe.  The chorus is magnificent, with Wolfe really delivering the goods with a solo in the middle.  The problem is he only does it once!  Where’s another chorus when you need it?  After the chorus, the volume is turned down for a chorus of “Near the Cross” and a soft solo tag by Wolfe.  Really good, but leaves you hungering for more…

Personal song rating: 9 out of 10

9. “Lay Them Down and Leave Them”

This is another Allman-led simple lyric and melody out of a similar mold as “Nothing Is Impossible”.  This one Allman wrote himself, along with his sister, Robin.  Piano and light strings again comprise the simple instrumentation, and basic harmonies highlight the comforting lyric.

Personal song rating: 8 out of 10

10. “No One Cared so Much”

I love this hymn penned by Jim Hill, and Chris Allman sings it exceptionally well.  The trio doesn’t have to do anything fancy to spruce it up; it is beautiful enough as written.  To mix things up, the harmonies are stacked on top of Wolfe singing a low lead in the second verse, to great effect.  After a key change, Allman takes it home in the chorus.  I love it when a group ends an album with a message of comfort for the listener, and that’s exactly what Greater Vision does here.  No one ever cared for us like Jesus.

Personal song rating: 8 out 0f 10

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