CD Review: The Only Way (Greater Vision)

The Only Way (Greater Vision)Greater Vision’s last mainline release, Never Alone, came out in 2008. Jason Waldroup was still with them when they started the recording process. They breathed a sigh of relief when the prospective Waldroup feature “He is Loved” was in the perfect key for new tenor Jacob Kitson’s voice!

Today, nearly three years later, Kitson has come and gone, and original tenor Chris Allman has returned. The Only Way shows that Allman’s return was clearly a home-run decision. He is one of a very small number of elite tenor singers in demand as a studio background vocalist. His vocal power shines with a roof-raising rendition of “I Know a Man Who Can,” yet he treats the debut single, the Rodney Griffin-penned “Like I Wish I’d Lived,” with an appropriately tender finesse.

Despite the significance of his vocal contributions, the biggest strength he brings is his songwriting. “Another Child’s Coming Home” is easily the project’s strongest song. His father’s heart and pastor’s heart propel a lush and exquisite lyric and rendition.

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Songs 1, 3, and 5 are the only fast songs, so several consecutive slow songs in the second half damper the project’s momentum. That said, audiences expect them to sing their recognizable fast hits, so they probably need these slow songs for their live programs. They are known for translating songs which might seem weak on a CD into effective live performance songs, and they will undoubtedly pull that off here.

Were it not for a historical goof, “No Longer Chained” would easily be the standout fast song. It tells the story of a Roman soldier coming home at night and telling his family about meeting Paul. There’s only one problem: Roman soldiers weren’t allowed to marry. This was partly because single men are often more fearless on the battlefield than married fathers, and partly an enlistment incentive. Once soldiers who were not Roman citizens had served out their terms of service, they could retire a citizen and then raise a family. Now we know that some soldiers had inappropriate relationships and illegitimate children during their service, but these were not legally recognized marriages. Today’s military/family paradigm was foreign to Roman culture.

* * * * *

For over a decade, Greater Vision’s sound has been shaped and guided by master producer Lari Goss. On The Only Way, Gerald Wolfe takes a key producing role. Goss still offers string orchestrations.

Greater Vision has set an incredibly high bar for their projects; a five-star Greater Vision project would need to stand at least head and shoulders with the likes of Live at First Baptist Atlanta and Quartets. This isn’t quite that level, but it is a solid four-star project. As importantly, it is a step in the right direction: The Only Way is more than a breath of fresh air—it offers the the first puffs of what promises to be a second wind for the group.

Produced by: Gerald Wolfe and Lari Goss. • Group members: Chris Allman, Gerald Wolfe, Rodney Griffin. • Review copy provided.  • Song list: He Didn’t When He Could Have Passed By; Safe Within His Hand; No Longer Chained; I Know a Man Who Can; He’s the Only Way; Like I Wish I’d Lived; But God; We Still Have to Pray; Eternity’s About to Begin; Heaven Can’t Be Far Away; Another Child’s Coming Home. • Average song rating: 3.6 stars. Album rating: 4 stars.


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46 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. …So I guess he should’ve said, “Hugged his mom and dad and said, I’m home”?
    I still love the thought in the lyric. He can tell a story in song like no one else can do! 🙂

    • Umm, I think Roman Soldiers went back to their barracks or stations at the end of the day – it’s not like the Roman military disbanded at seventeen-hundred and the soldiers went home!

      I suspect that if Griffin sat back and thought about it, he knows that, too, but it had just slipped his mind when writing the song.

      (There is even an allusion to my point in II Tim. 2:4, by the way.)

    • This reminds me of the discussion here recently about “truth” in gospel songwriting.

      The historical “mistake” doesn’t really make any difference to me. It’d be different if it was something doctrinal. Rodney’s in story-telling mode and paints a picture that, while perhaps not 100% accurate historically, gets the message of the song across. In my opinion, it’s the best lyric I’ve heard recently. It doesn’t matter to me in the least whether Roman soldiers were married. Rather, it matters that Paul was able to touch the lives of many of those soldiers, and that the Bible says that many of them were saved. Who do we find ourselves “chained” to in our everyday lives? How are we influencing them for the Savior?

      • I am totally in agreement with the heart and message of the song.

        If I was to convert your central point into a sentence, would this be accurate? “If the underlying message is good, it does not matter if the lyric is accurate.”

      • I don’t think the fact that Roman soldiers weren’t allowed to marry makes the song “inaccurate”. I think it’s part of Rodney’s story. The entire song is fictionalized. Again, it’d be different if it was something doctrinal. A line that says “hugged his wife and kids and said I’m home” may annoy a history buff or professor, but it’s not going to cause a believer to stumble, and that’s what matters.

        A lot of this we went over in that thread a while back. The events in the song may not have happened, but that doesn’t make the message of the song true.

      • Should be “not true” on that last line.

      • I had thought through responses to different objections that could arise, but the position that it makes no difference if it’s historically inaccurate is one that it didn’t even occur to me that someone might seriously advocate! So I guess that I am at a loss for words. 🙂

      • I don’t know why you’re surprised at that…I would think most gospel music fans would respond in that fashion.

        Again, we’re talking about one passing line in the song. It has very little to do with the lyrical “big picture”. If the whole song dealt with the proposal, marriage, wedding, and honeymoon of a Roman soldier, that would probably be different.

      • Maybe most SG fans didn’t take ancient history class, but I prefer to work from an assumption of SG fans’ intelligence. 🙂

        It’s not “one line” – it’s the context and setting for both verses.

      • Well, I’m just glad he got saved, married or not. I would hope this whole Roman soldier thing doesn’t distract anyone (else) from that. 🙂

  2. Daniel,
    Do you think in the history of the roman empire there was not ONE soldier that was married? I think it would be a reach to say that.

    • Mark – That’s a red herring. All that matters is whether Roman soldiers were married at the time of Paul – and we know the answer to that. 🙂

  3. Nice review. I do know that most “Roman” soldiers, were not even Roman, and therefore could marry. He was a Roman soldier, but not a Roman. I wouldn’t lie to you. They owned the world, they could have any number of “Gentile” soldiers.

    Another thought: It’s more stage suitable to say “wife” than “girlfriend”.

    • As far as I know, both soldiers born Roman citizens and soldiers not born Roman citizens were not permitted to marry for the duration of their service.

      • Daniel, you’re absolutely right about “Roman” citizens. I have heard and studied otherwise about non-Roman citizens serving in military, although I think it was more common in the last part of the Roman Empire. And Mark, you’re actually right. I have read where many were “secretly” married, although it turned out kinda bad for them. Sorry I provided the “red herring” with more breadth and depth.

      • FNR – I was talking about people of any nationality who had signed up to be actual Roman soldiers.

        Are you talking about other armies allied with the Romans, who may have been fighting on the same side but were not actually Roman soldiers?

  4. …and here I was intentionally avoiding bringing up my other lyric concern, since that was the one I thought would have been controversial…

    🙂

    • It’s about Gabriel blowing his trumpet, isn’t it? 🙂

      • Nope. 🙂

      • I can’t provide research for that one, other than that’s more “legend” than Biblical evidence.

      • Yeah, the Bible says the “trump of God”, with Gabriel nowhere to be found. Gabriel blowing a trumpet is the stuff of tradition, culture, and hundreds of gospel songs. 🙂 Oh well.

  5. In reference to your “second hurdle” remark, Greater Vision is not the first group to face the issue of “How do we improve or grow from here.” I recall the glory days of Andrae Crouch when each time one would hear him in person, he had more people and louder/bigger sound. “Bigger and better” seems to be a merry-go-round that is tempting to ride but in too many cases it leads to the eventual dissolving of the group because you finally maximize your impact and there’s no place else to go.

    I love Lari Goss and his genius to make groups better than they were, but tomorrow comes and where do you go after that? There is something to be said about the gifts hidden within a group to make it unique among all others. The SG audiences also very much appreciate the power of simplicity and it never really goes out of style.

    Greater Vision is an immensely and multi-talented group and the men will adjust in the absence of Lari’s perspective. What’s more, they are devout, real and believable men with more than a career at heart. They truly minister with their great music.

    • Yes, there comes a limit where one cannot go bigger. But I have to agree with your observations about the group, and this is, I do believe, the right musical direction.

      • “Yes, there comes a limit where one cannot go bigger.” Sadly, I haven’t found that yet. 😉

      • Ouch! I did not mean it that way! 🙂

  6. Solution: “He hugged his chief commander and said, I’m home”… 🙂

    • What about,

      “He hugged his kith and kin…”

      Actually, Cornelius (Acts 10) had a household and a family of some kind, so had the Jailer in Philippi.

      And their family, “kinsmen” & “all his” in both cases all got saved.

      So, wife or no wife; Rodney’s lyric is not so far off scripture – and that’s a better benchmark than secular history!

      • David Mac,

        Good points. However, “kinsmen” was often used throughout the Scriptures of what we would today term “extended family,” so that doesn’t prove that he was married.

        Do we have any historical evidence that only Roman soldiers ran jails, or any particular reason to believe that this particular jailer was a Roman soldier? (Even if we did, “all his” doesn’t necessarily indicate a wife and children – it could be servants and kinsmen, as in Cornelius’s case, though I would tend to guess that it actually does refer to a family here.)

  7. Their song (written by Rodney) “I Wish I’d Lived” is a song with words that I’d like to sing to God about myself. I think it is an extremely “beautiful” song and I think God likes those words!

    • I agree – after “Another Child’s Coming Home,” that song is easily my next favorite on the project.

  8. I think a lot of you are being a little goffy over the words to this song. Rodney is telling a story not quoting scripture. i Don’t think you have to worry about Greater Vision, they will always be great to most of there true fan. As long as they have Rodney writing and Gerald leading they will be fine

  9. Let me put this discussion in a different light. If a song about Paul referred to his conversion on the road to Tel Aviv, I imagine I would be far from the only one expressing concerns about historically inaccurate lyrics!

    Now several people above were making the case that if the song has a good message, historically inaccurate lyrics don’t matter. (In other words, the ends justify the means!)

    I think what they are really meaning is that if the song has a good message, historically inaccurate lyrics don’t matter if the inaccuracies have to do with an area of history with which they are not personally familiar.

    Now I would be willing to grant that perhaps 50% to 75% of Southern Gospel fans have little to no familiarity with ancient history. (I hope the number is lower, but I would be willing to concede that much as a possibility.) That still leaves what is, I trust, a decent percentage of fans familiar with ancient history who would be aware of the celibacy requirements for Roman Soldiers during their time of service.

    • Paul on the road to Tel Aviv wouldn’t be historically accurate OR Biblically accurate. Nowhere in the Scripture does it explicitly say that the soldiers Paul interacted with weren’t married. Now, they may not have been, but since it doesn’t conflict the Bible, I say let Rodney use his imagination. No harm done.

    • To answer your point more directly…I don’t give it a pass because I’m not familiar with it. If that were the case, I would have changed my mind, because you helped make me familiar with it.

      I give it a pass because it doesn’t contradict the Bible or declare a false gospel. As long as a song passes that test, I don’t have a problem with the songwriter painting a picture. We listen to gospel music, which purposes to draw sinners and edify the saints, not to educate or satisfy historians.

  10. Brian… Gabriel is quite obviously the messenger angel. He was the chosen one to announce the birth of both, Jesus and His forerunner, John the Baptist. Although it’s not mentioned in scripture who will blow the trumpet, Gabriel is the likliest of those for the job. Scripture doesn’t say that an archangel will sound the horn but that Christ will return at the trumpet blast and the shout of an..Not THE but, an archangel which tells us there are more than one archangels.

    • Brian and Sammy – thank you for this fascinating side discussion! I hadn’t really devoted much if any time to previously thinking about the issue.

    • True, it doesn’t say that Gabriel doesn’t blow the trumpet. It says “trump of God”…I tend to to think God’s the one blowing the trumpet. But it’s nothing to break fellowship over, obviously. And it’s not enough to make me turn off a song that has Gabriel blowing a trumpet in it. But it is true that his trumpet-blowing is more tradition than doctrine.

  11. That was my point… It is not a contradiction Biblically speaking. Songs should indeed be doctrinally sound.

    • So if I’m understanding you correctly, then, you are advocating that something can be historically incorrect and yet not be contradiction, Biblically speaking. Perhaps “whatever things are true…” and similar exhortations are removed from the equation… ?

      • Just in case anyone doesn’t understand the reference, that’s Philippians 4:8. I think you’re stretching that scripture out to more than it is intended. If it meant “true” in the sense you’re using it, then we should not think on anything that is fiction or fictionalized. That includes most books, movies, and a whole lot of gospel songs. I don’t think God is telling us to avoid everything like that. Again, rehashing the discussion we had a while back, even Jesus used fiction in his parables to deliver a message of truth.

        I predict that your response would be that Jesus’ parables were stories that could have really happened, and that’s true. But in the same vein, I don’t see any reason why some Roman soldier couldn’t have been married with a family. If we knew for an absolute, 100% fact that none of them were, then I might consider it as “not true”. But even then, I don’t think it would strike me that way.

        This song absolutely qualifies to me as “true”. It also happens to be honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report! And there’s a whole lot of virtue! 🙂

      • Perhaps you don’t recall my reply in that fiction discussion – no predicting was necessarily needed to say what you said. 🙂

        I am fully willing to classify the song as just, lovely, of good report, etc. But I guess we might indeed have different definitions of “true.”

      • Sorry to aggravate you Daniel, but historically you are on the mark about soldiers not being married. But evidence has been documented of others compromising those rules. That doesn’t resolve the issue. Without trying to create a “red herring”, I would still go in the direction that theologically incorrect songs can be proven with more regularity than historically inaccurate songs. There’s so much history that will forever remain blurry, as opposed to the Word of God, which isn’t so blurry.

        In that realm, historically inaccurate songs should be more in justified taking a back seat to theologically correct songs. That stance doesn’t mean I’m purely dismissing the lyric.

      • I think we can agree on that point, and hopefully we can let the discussion rest there – theologically incorrect songs are indeed of a greater concern.

  12. If I recall correctly, the great song, “If You Knew Him” by the Perry’s, had a little blooper of it’s own. “I walked by the tomb of Buddha, looked inside and saw his bones…” Buddha was actually burned to ashes! So yes, sometime writers do make mistakes, but the song can still be effective.

    • *sometimes* See a simple typing mistake! HAHA 😉

    • Agreed – yes, writers do sometimes make mistakes.