4 Essential Greater Vision Albums

Greater Vision - It's Just Like HeavenThe Essential Albums column highlights the albums every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections. This list is in chronological, not ranked, order.

  1. 1992: It’s Just Like Heaven. Greater Vision’s acclaimed original lineup—Chris Allman, Gerald Wolfe, and Mark Trammell—made several recordings which demonstrated their versatility and vocal power. With songs like “It’s Just Like Heaven,” “He is Mine,” and “There is a River,” this is the strongest album from that era.
  2. 2002: Live at First Baptist Atlanta. There was a time when Southern Gospel studio recordings consisted of a piano player, a drummer, a bass guitarist, and a utility musician who played steel guitar, harmonica, and a few other instruments. In that era, groups like Gold City, the Happy Goodmans, and the Kingsmen made live recordings with bands that could replicate that sound. In an era where Southern Gospel’s sound is often more orchestrated, this album joins the Bishops’ Chapter X Live and the Collingworth Family’s Fear Not Tomorrow as one of an incredibly small number to do justice to the orchestrated Southern Gospel sound in a live setting.
  3. 2003: Quartets. Quartet harmony fans aren’t the only ones to acclaim this projects as Greater Vision’s all-time greatest. Let’s tie an arm behind its back, so to speak, and even the playing field by setting aside the dimension of the rich textures that voices like Glenn Dustin, Gene McDonald, and Tracy Stuffle brought to their ensemble sound. Just judge the album by its songs; “He is to Me,” “We Seek Your Face,” “Just Ask,” “God’s Grace Reaches Farther,” and “Crown of Bright Glory” alone make this a must-have recording.
  4. 2006: Hymns of the Ages. The magnificent orchestrations and vocal arrangements make this one of the finest hymns projects ever recorded. The group recently announced that they will re-issuing the project with tenor Chris Allman’s vocals. This is quite likely to refute the aphorism “you can’t improve on perfection.” 

Do you agree or disagree with this list? If you could only choose four albums to introduce a friend to this group, which would you pick?


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42 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Great list. For an “essentials” list, I would probably swap out Hymns of the Ages for Far Beyond This Place. I think that project really set the course for the next decade for the trio.

  2. I know it probably doesn’t count since its a “Best Of” collection, however the album “Fifteen” is amazing. The album is just one great song after another….but once again, that probably doesn’t count for this discussion.

    • You have a good point that a compilation might be a pretty good introduction, but you’re also right that compilations would be beyond the scope of what I had intended for this post.

  3. Great List. i was in attendance at the Atlanta Concert, and it was amazing!! I would agree to include Far Beyond this Place, but I would not replace Hymns of the Ages. Besides the Gaither Trio Hymns album and Sandi Patti’s Hymn album, it is the greatest Hymns project ever!! It is a Masterpiece. I would have to make my list 5 long. it does not get any better than Greater Vision! There are a few changes i would hve like to have seen on the Quartets project. It would have been nice to have a song with Billy Todd and Gerald Williams but I understand you could not include Everyone that sang bass at that time! Great album none the less!

    • And of course Ray Dean Reese. Which I think was the most glaring omission from that CD especially considering some of the ones that were included…!

      • He may not have been available. 🙂

    • Well, there’s hope yet that they might include Gerald and Ray Dean on Quartets 2!

    • Oh, and there would have been nothing keeping me from a list of five; perhaps I should have. 🙂

  4. By the grace of God, when Greater Vision first started, I could use that old song title, “I Was There When It Happened (and I Guess I Ought to Know)”, because of their Cathedrals’ connection. I remember thinking before I ever heard them, “how great are they going to be with Mark and Gerald and WHOEVER they get to sing tenor”!, and boy, was I right…and a lot of other people who said the same thing. I have every album of the original group (I think I have every GV project, period), and like Pat, I wouldn’t be able to put a limit on my list of favorites. They did a custom project that had 20 songs on it…songs they had loved over the years. If it were possible to wear out a CD, mine would be worn out. Mark and Gerald know every Gospel song ever written, and between the two of them…who wrote it in what year, who had the first recording of it, and every word to every verse. So they are masters at putting this kind of project together. I can’t believe we’ve had the ministry of Greater Vision for over 20 years now…they flew by. And it will take Heaven to measure the impact of that ministry that continues today. Gerald, Rodney, Chris…I love you, sweet boys. Keep singing (and Gerald, keep playing…you know how I love it) till Jesus comes!

    • I know the feeling, because I’m that way with the Cathedrals – there’s no way I could do a four essential albums for them! 🙂

  5. We’ve got the “Live in Atlanta” album scheduled for the enLighten Weekend Jubilee on the weekend of August 4th!

  6. I believe that the Greene’s “And the walls came down live” recording circa 1995 had a live orchestra as well.

    • You are correct – a great recording.

    • Ah, yes. I knew there had been one or two others, so I stayed on the vague side. 🙂

  7. I would agree about dropping the hymns project for Far Beyond This Place. It was their breakthrough recording and featured a bevy of hit singles!

  8. I haven’t heard all 4 of the above albums (I do have Quartets and Live in Atlanta) so I can’t really comment as to whether or not these are the best of the best — they may be. Maybe I am a little different from some people, because if I was going to introduce them to someone I would want to share their sound as it is “now” — or in other words, I would use the most recent recordings of the current group. Quartets was a great album but not “typical” Greater Vision. Live in Atlanta was a wonderful recording, but a different lineup and it was made several years ago.

    I would probably share the most recent couple of albums, and then possibly add in a couple older ones that have the “hits” that they still sing often today, such as My Name is Lazarus and He’d Still Been God. But that’s just me, and I certainly woldn’t argue against your choices.

    • I can see the case for focusing only on the current lineup; that does make some sense if that’s your approach. 🙂

  9. Well, I have to chime in here! It’s hard to narrow an over 20-year field of projects to four, but here goes! No gimick or themed albums. Just traditional studio projects. Helps me narrow the field a bit.

    1. The King Came Down: easily the pinnacle of the Trammell era. “Heaven Can’t Be Far Away” sold this project for me. However the sleeper song on here is “I’m Free”. Love the track on this one. The beginning of Chris Allman’s songwriting career kicked off with his first composition “Just Stand”. Also one of his sister, Robin’s, best songs “The King Came Down” is on here. This album had great balance to me; ballads, fast, new songs, old ones, an acapella. Well rounded project. After this one you can imagine my dismay when Trammell departed!

    2. Perfect Candidate: How do you follow up a great project like Far Beyond This Place? With this one. Great album. Great songs. This album kicked off “Use Us, Jesus” & from there i was hooked. It also produced iconic song for GV like “So Much God”, He’s Still Waiting By The Well” & arguably Rodney’s most powerful song to date “God Wants To Hear You Sing”. Gerald’s renditions”Merciful To Me” & “He’ll Carry Me Through” are flawlessly done. Jason had settled into his position & everything was gelling here. Wayne Hauns producing & orchestration was a perfect much for these songs.

    3. Faces: Enter The Goss. If I’m not mistaken Lari Goss & Haun both produced tracks for this project. This project had a uniquely dark tone, which I loved. Of course the iconic song “Faces” is found here, but one can’t forget “He’ll Carry Me”. One of Rod’s most unique songs. A sleeper song was Jason’s wonderfully delivered, “The Other Miracles”. Again a unique song, but tailored for Jason perfectly. Gerald hits “It Is Well” outta the ballpark! Loved ” Theres Still Room…” & the Goodman flavored “Is It Just Me”. Hard to leave this out of my list.

    3. The Only Way. Allman returns. This was the first new song project after Chris Allman returned & it delivered. It’s a throwback to the Trammell era sounding projects, but never sounds dated or forced. “He Could Have Passed By” comes out swinging for the fences. Each singer gets a gem in here, Rod’s “No Longer Chained” , Gerald’s heartfelt “But God”, & Chris brings in two, three if you count “I Know A Man”, but his cuts of “Like I Wished I Lived” & “Another Childs Coming Home” stand out above “I Know A Man”, for me. All in all can’t miss with this one.

    Runners Up: “Take Him At His Word”, “Far Beyond This Place”, & “You Can Have A Song”

    Hard to say if I’ve ever been disappointed with a GV release, but I’m heavily bias!

    Richie Hartsfield

    • I gave some serious thought to “Faces.” But their themed albums are so stellar that there was no way I could leave them off. 🙂

  10. It’s definitely hard to crystalize this down to such a few, but if the end of the thought is the criteria, introducing the group to someone unfamiliar with them, then I think I’d probably go with:
    The Only Way – the most current and features a good range of material
    Far Beyond this Place – for all of the reasons mentioned above
    It’s Just Like Heaven – I agree with Richie that “The King Came Down” was the stronger album, for ME, but this has more songs that have had more enduring use for Greater Vision

    • WHOOPS – hit submit by accident. My final album on this list would probably be Church Hymnal 1 or 2. That style has been a staple of their programs from the beginning

      My favorite album is no doubt the Quartets album but within the context of introducing them to a new audience, I wouldn’t include that because it was so far afield and only one or two of the songs are still being sung occasionally by the group.

      • If we go solely based on which songs are still being sung regularly by a group, we’d pretty much have to go with only the latest for all groups! 🙂

  11. I’ve grown up listening to Greater Vision through the years, and I’ve enjoyed every album they’ve ever made. Like Richie, it would be hard for me to name 4 recordings that I would say are essential,
    because all of them are great in their own way, and are a must hear. I agree with the inclusion of “It’s Just Like Heaven” and “Live At First Baptist Atlanta”. However I would put Take Him At His Word to my list.
    That album is very special to me, it was pretty much the soundtrack of my life from 10 years old on, but its also full of great songs. They are still singing “I Could Never Praise Him Enough”, a song written by Chris Allman on that project. I would really love to hear them sing “Oh What A Friend” again (also written by Chris), and the best version of  Lanny Wolfe’s “Precious Blood” is on that recording as well.

    I would also include “Far Beyond This Place”. It contains the groups signature song, “My Name is Lazarus”, and what I call the Baptist national anthem, “Just One More Soul”. Other great songs
    included are “I Believe” (featuring Glen Payne), “Just Pray”, and “He Washed My Feet”. I’ve enjoyed the posts I’ve read, and its cool to see how other GV albums have endeared themselves to people.
    I’m thankful for their ministry, and that they are still recording awesome music!

  12. Let me just say, this is why they are the best. There are other groups who have been doing this for 20 + years and it would be pretty easy to narrow down their 4 best projects. 10 or more have been named and the discussion has just begun. Thank you GV for the 2 decades of classics and all the years left to come!!!

    • Where is the “Like” button on this comment? LOL! Agree completely Pat!

  13. I have been a GV fan since the beginning. I first heard them when they had only been together for 4 weeks. It was at a Mennonite church in Grabill, IN and what a concert it was. Their CD (On a Journey) was even in a temporary sleeve 🙂

    There is just no way that I could narrow it down to four – but I will say that “20 Inspirational Favorites” is the GV project that I play the most!

    When it comes to a gospel concert, I don’t go JUST for the singing! Gerald’s MC work is almost as good as Younces. George Younce could seemingly walk into an auditorium and instantly know what needed to be on the program. Gerald has the same gift. I’ve often said that even if I didn’t like GV as much as I do, I’d still go because of Gerald. He makes it more than a concert – It’s a worship experience!

    • 20 Inspirational Favorites is another great project!

  14. Interesting discussion, and Pat lays it out real well. Hard to choose 4. Different people have different tastes. And to say the least, for different time periods, there may have been an “essential” recording, maybe for what it introduced, or the concept behind the recording. There is an obvious distincition between “best” and “essential”. Certainly for me, being the insider that I am from the very beginning, and now again, my list would be different in terms of “my favorite”, for it could largely be due to some memory I may have had as they were in the studio or the circumstances of a song written for a specific project. If I were to introduce them:

    1) The King Came Down – this was pretty much the culmination of 2-3 years full time on the road, discovering more of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, musical directions, and so forth. They had morphed into their own.
    2) Take Him At His Word – Rodney’s 3rd album with GV, this once again took them to another stylistic tweaking from Trammell era but it worked, and this group was beginning to gel with the addition to Rodney. This album also included some great songs and was GV’s first partnership with Lari Goss. A much more “jazz” infused project (ie, Goss, Jackie Street).
    3) Far Beyond This Place – Indeed. I think by this time (almost 10 years), they were established and had a more knowledgeable and cohesive vision for where they were going. And Rodney was in the beginning stages of becoming a songwriting machine, and often times at those stages, the best work comes out.
    4) Live at First Baptist Atlanta – While I was tempted to enter “Quartets”, this one was just hard to top overall. Everything on this recording is Above Average to Great. Song selection, production, live setting, conceptual vision. Hard to find a weakness on it.
    (honorable mention: The Only Way – Why not? It’s their best recording in at least the last 5-6 years and has some great material, and a “re-born” sound to it [not salvically, of course]. This is the group now. If you were take a friend to a concert and encourage them to listen to radio, this is what they’d be familiar with).

    My choices could change over time. Tomorrow even. “On A Journey” is the most memorable recording for me personally, considering I was inside the studio at 5 years old while some of it was being recorded (Danny Brown’s basement, I believe). I probably listened to “20 Inspirational Favorites” more than any other, and I always loved Quartets, Perfect Candidate, and Serving Risen A Savior. But anyways. Obviously, “best” and “most distinctive or essential” are different categories and will get different responses.

    • Might I add: I had been in the studio for a couple, but that was my FIRST time ever inside a studio. So things resonate a little bit.

      • And at 5, that must have been especially useful!

  15. Hymns of the Ages is by far the best of the list, close second to Quartets. I’d probably go as far as saying that even a rehash of Hymns is not the best move. I love Chris’ voice, but a second installment would be a better idea.

    • I know I’d love to see a second installment, but those soundtracks must be unbelievably expensive!

    • Would be pretty difficult to try a “sequel” of Hymns of the Ages. It’s a concept project, going from Creation to the Second Coming. There’s nowhere else to go.

      That’s not to say they couldn’t do another project of hymns, but I don’t think it would be “Hymns of the Ages 2”. It stands on its own.

      • And $$$….at least of that caliber.

      • Definitely expense tracks, I would imagine! Brian, I get that it’s a concept, but they skipped from creation to advent. Granted, I know not all hymns lend to genesis to revelation chronology, but I think you’d agree that there are plenty of other amazing hymns in the same vein that deserve the same treatment. Maybe even a creation or second coming collection?

  16. The first time I saw Greater Vision was in 1998 at a church in Warsaw, In. Their “new” CD at that time was “When I See the Cross” and the copy I bought that night still gets alot of play even today. It contains Just How Precious, Common Garments, All the Way, He’d Still Been God, and the title song When I See the Cross, all written by Rodney Griffen. They close out the project with an excellent rendition of Till the Storm Passes By

  17. I enjoy every Greater Vision cd I’ve ever bought! I’m only missing 2 or 3 of their earlier recordings… I’ll get them one day… : )

  18. When my father and I walked into a Christian bookstore in Toledo, Ohio (in 1999) and saw the Greater Vision album, Far Beyond This Place, we knew it would be a good one. I don’t’ know how many times my father would play Champion of Love from the Cathedrals Reunion, over and over again. Needless to say, after listening to Far Beyond This Place, we became instant Greater Vision fans. I went to every concert I could get to when they were in my area… and I’m sure I annoyed them very much asking to carry in and out their equipment.

    My personal favorites would be Far Beyond This Place, Live At First Baptist Atlanta, It’s Just Like Heaven and Quartets.

    Quartets to me was just genius and as was mentioned before by Daniel, aside from the uniqueness of having the different bass singers, the songs were all great as well. Nobody will ever be the Cathedrals, but Greater Vision has their influence all over them. Gerald learned well from George and Glen and it shows. That’s why I’ve always been such a huge fan of GV.

    Promise won’t be the Cathedrals and we won’t be Greater Vision… but we will be heavily influenced by both. So many people think everything needs to be done different and I understand to an extent. But, why not continue something that hasn’t stopped working?

    I’ll admit though, I do not have every Greater Vision album. I’d like to get them though!!!

    • I don’t have every single one, either – I have all but three (On a Journey, Where He Leads Me, and Sing it Again).

  19. Chiming in a little late, here.
    1. The King Came Down – incredible album vocally and lyrically.
    2. Quartets – I still listen to this one quite a bit.
    3. Far Beyond This Place – This is the albm that Haun got them “over the hump” and into the top SG group for years to come.
    4. Faces – This one had my favorite songs written by Rod.

    Almost put “Take Him at His Word” in.