Concert Review: Greater Vision, Mark Trammell Trio
Last Saturday, I saw Greater Vision and the Mark Trammell Trio in concert in Wooster, Ohio. It was my first time to see Greater Vision, who unfortunately does not come into my area of Ohio often, and my third time to see the Mark Trammell Trio.
The concert was held at Fisher Auditorium at Wooster, Ohio, where the Inspirations and McKameys came earlier this year. The roughly 1,000-seat theater was packed for that concert and had a few more empty seats Saturday, but at least 800 people had to be there–a strong turnout for northern Ohio, especially on an April day with the worst snow in a month.
At that the Inspirations/McKameys concert, someone had lost a hearing aid. At every break, the emcee asked whoever had lost it to go to the back and claim it. This became a running joke when the emcee would mention in passing that the owner should go back and claim it, but hadn’t because he or she probably would not be able to hear the announcer’s comments.
This concert began with an announcement that whoever had lost the hearing aid still had not claimed it and should if they were here this time. At this point, an apparently disoriented Mark Trammell wandered onto the stage. The announcer told him to look in the back, which he went back off stage to do. This was the first of several hilarious impromptu moments.
After a few more announcements, the announcer brought the Mark Trammell Trio on stage. They started their set with “Won’t it Be Wonderful There,” featuring Mark. This is the old “Won’t it Be Wonderful There”; Eric sang their new song by the same name later in the program.
Mark is evidently a student of the school that does not program concerts by setting expectations too high at the start, only to be let down by a string of mediocre songs at the end. Mark started with a string of good songs, featuring tenor Eric Phillips on “I Still Believe” and lead singer Dustin Sweatman on “Weary at the Well,” but saved their showstoppers for later in the program.
The fourth song in the trio’s set was “Moving the Hand of God,” one of my favorite cuts off their recent project, Once Upon a Cross. I said when I reviewed the project that this Kyla Rowland song seems to have been misplaced from a Perrys project–about as high a compliment as I can give to a song. It was good on the CD, but it was even better live.
After the first four songs, Mark Trammell reminded the audience that he’d lived in Ohio (roughly an hour north of Wooster) during his nearly eleven years with the Cathedrals, and thanked us for the warm welcome back. His carefully worded double meaning was greeted with a round of laughter. HE said that this April weather reminded him why he’d taken the chance to move back to Alabama some years back.
He then pulled out his bass guitar while Steve played the piano on “Something About That Name / In the Garden.”
They closed their set with Dustin, Eric, and Mark all doing their sugar sticks, their showstoppers. Dustin went first, singing “Just a Little Closer Home,” which was good as always and especially electrifying on the second verse.
Eric was featured on “Glory Road.” Though just about every tenor out there (except Ernie Haase, I think) sings the song today, nobody does it better than Eric. In fact, I think Eric does it better than any other tenor has done since his dad, Ernie Phillips, left the road over twenty years ago.
Mark closed their first set by singing “Once Upon a Cross,” one of the best songs he’s ever done. Based on the way it was placed in the set, this song is probably destined to become his signature song for the next couple years. If it sees success in radio or in the Fan Awards, it could even become his signature song. This song was welcomed by the first standing ovation of the night. (Not everyone stood, but at least half the audience didn’t stand for any of the standing ovations.)
After a string of three songs of that caliber, the Mark Trammell Trio was a hard act to follow. In fact, any other trio besides Greater Vision would have let the audience down, and even Greater Vision might have had that problem if they hadn’t started their set with “My Name is Lazarus.”
Yes, Greater Vision came on stage singing their signature hit, and probably the only song in their repertoire that could raise the excitement level another notch. Gerald Wolfe is known for being one of the best Southern Gospel emcees at the art of reading audience reactions, and I think he made the right call here. I doubt it’s standard procedure for groups to start a concert with their most popular song, but it was appropriate here.
Of course, it sounds like heresy for me to say that the most popular group in Southern Gospel coming on stage could be a letdown. I’m not sure how to capture this in words other than to say that you would have had to be there. Of course, Gerald Wolfe was there, and made the right call for the moment, saving the slower songs in their set for later and putting two of their best uptempo songs in their first three songs.
Greater Vision did one slow song, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” before putting in another uptempo song, featuring baritone Rodney Griffin on their most recent big hit, “Paid in Full through Jesus, Amen.”
Griffin, tenor Jason Waldroup, and lead singer Gerald Wolfe were all featured on “God’s Got a Bigger Thing Going On.” Jason also sang “With All the Many Miracles” before the trio moved into “Redeemed Medley.”
Gerald was featured on “I Know He Heard My Prayer.” He introduced it by saying they wanted to find hymns for their new project from different denominations. They came up with this one by Church of God minister Vep Ellis to represent the Pentecostals. Before singing the song, Gerald asked: “Are there any Pentecostals here… (pause) …who wish they were Baptists?”
Not having heard the project before the concert, I’d hoped this arrangement would be a super-ballad for Wolfe in the vein of “Redemption Draweth Nigh” or “O Holy Night.” The arrangement was enjoyable and very well-done, but brought in Rodney and Jason at the end to do the big ending as a trio (handing the high parts at the end to Jason).
Rodney finished the first set with his big ballad of the night, “He’ll Carry Me.” Anyone who questioned why Greater Vision sent this to radio a few years ago probably never saw Rodney do it live.
After intermission, the Mark Trammell came back for a five song set. Mark Trammell was featured on “Thank God I am Free.” Eric and Dustin both sang their best features from their new project, “Won’t it Be Wonderful There” and “However I Go,” respectively.
I say that “Won’t it Be Wonderful There” is Eric’s best solo from Once Upon a Cross because it’s an uptempo ballad that fits his voice perfectly, especially the end of the second verse. Though he did a softer attack on the high notes in the second verse live than on the CD, they are still pretty new to doing the song live. Over time, I could see this song becoming one of Eric’s most-requested songs.
To date, it appears Dustin’s most popular song with the Mark Trammell Trio has been “Just a Little Closer Home.” His voice and enthusiasm seem to work perfectly for presenting a song of that sort. “However I Go” is arranged in the same vein, and it went over as well as I thought it would when I first heard it.
Mark then sang “You Can’t Hold Back the Flood”, their new project’s Rodney Griffin tune, before closing their set with “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary.” On this song, pianist Steve Hurst and lead singer Dustin Sweatman switched places, to give Dustin (who is also an able pianist) a song behind the piano bench. The trio received their second standing ovation for the night on this song. (About 2/3 of the audience remained seated for all of the standing ovations for each of the groups; I say this so I do not leave the wrong impression with this review.)
Greater Vision came back on stage featuring Jason on “Lily of the Valley” from their new Hymns of the Ages project. This uptempo rendition highlighted verses of the hymn I must have heard before but had forgotten. Based in large part on how well they did the song live, I think this song is probably my favorite song from their hymns project.
Rodney was featured on “He’d Still Been God.” Typically a song of this caliber would be a highlight of that part of the concert, but the best part of the concert came after Rodney finished the song and left the stage.
You see, in Greater Vision’s first segment a lady in the front row extracted a promise from Gerald that he would sing a song from the red-back hymnal in the second half. Well, he’d also received several requests to bring Mark Trammell on stage, so he answered both requests at once, bringing Mark on stage to sing “Living in Canaan Now” by the shaped notes.
It was a special moment, made a little more humorous by advice that Mark and Rodney traded before and after the song. As Rodney left the stage, he gave Mark this advice: “If Gerald starts picking on you…stand there and look stupid!” At this point, Mark did an astonishingly accurate imitation of the face Rodney makes at such moments.
When the song was almost over, Rodney came across the back of the stage slowly carrying a trash can, picking up a few items before exiting at the other side of the stage. (I guess since he’d gotten “fired” from being a baritone–temporarily, of course–he figured he’d take up janitor work.)
During the shape notes part, Mark had a solo line or two, which he did flawlessly, so there’s no question over whether he was faking it. It was his voice (not Rodney’s), and the do-re-mi notes were accurate for the song.
After the song finished–to another standing ovation, as I recall–Rodney came back on stage. Mark left him with this advice: “When Gerald starts picking at you…look natural!”
Gerald went to the piano and played it while Rodney sang “Because He Lives.”
Gerald introduced “He is to Me” by saying they recorded it with Glenn Dustin for their Quartets project but had never performed it on stage without him. (I have a feeling he wasn’t entirely serious about that part.)
Gerald’s big ballad of the night was “The Longer I Serve Him.” Though I was sort of hoping the big ballad of the night might be either “O Holy Night” or “Redemption Draweth Nigh,” it was nice to hear a Wolfe trademark big ballad.
The pace slowed for the final few songs, “I Just Came to Talk with the Lord” (a Dottie Rambo song they’re doing on their next project), “God is So Good” (after which Rodney did an altar call), and “In Times Like These / The Solid Rock” (featuring Gerald).
It was one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve attended. Greater Vision, of course, has the best and most instantly recognizable uptempo songs out there. They also have probably the funniest emcee in our genre.
The Mark Trammell Trio has the best vocal blend of any trio in Southern Gospel–and, incidentally, the most full sound I’ve yet heard from a group without a bass. They can nail both the big-ending ballads and the quartet-style songs, and they also have the best recently released new projects in Southern Gospel.
Put the various strengths of these two trios together, and you come out with one of the best possible combinations for an evening of great Southern Gospel music.