Greater Vision – “On A Journey”: Debut Project #4
The formation of Greater Vision sent shockwaves through the heart of the southern gospel industry, and more particularly Cathedral loyalists. Probably the other big things going on in 1990 was the “million dollar quartet” Perfect Heart, and how The Cats would re-group, Gold City riding a flying carpet of interest and thrilling fans across America, Talleys at the top of everything else, groups like The Florida Boys and The Kingsmen continuing to do the thing that everybody else expected them to do, and do it successfully. You can read more about this season of specificity here and here.
Technically, this actually wasn’t the debut project of Greater Vision. That honor belongs to “You Can Have A Song”, which was released on CD for the first time ever in December. Only a 1,000 copies were printed, hope you got yours. But Benson decided to pick this one up. Another interesting note is that the original title was “Share It With Jesus”, but was later changed to what we know it as now, “On A Journey”, properly defining what Greater Vision had set out to do. A journey compatible with a vision. Ok, that was cheesy, but it seems to have summed up the course of their ongoing career.
This project holds the honor of receiving the first ever 5 star rating from the Singing News magazine, followed later by (what I was told) Anthony Burger’s “Precious Memories” project. Apparently, this created a controversy and the Singing News halted the star rating system. Recently I asked an artist a rather dumb question, “How could these guys record something so good on their first big release?” His response was simple. “That’s what you get when 2/3 of the group were Cathedrals…they knew how to do it right”. I instantaneously encountered a “duh” moment and went on my merry way. I thought this was a good project when it was released from a promising group, even if all-male trios weren’t the common thing. But listening now, this project is electric.
Oh Lord, I Need A Miracle: An often overlooked song on this project, this kickstarts the Greater Vision enterprise with a solid, up-tempo number in early GV style. This cut was actually a mildly innovative arrangement for the time of its release, keeping in sync with the Cathedral tradition. A young Wolfe singing a line, the primed, master blender Trammell, and a developing and raw, Allman joining in the 2nd verse, going into the chorus. If you didn’t have “You Can Have A Song”, this was the first glimpse of something with great potential, as represented on the first track. I also can’t remember a GV song that makes the drummer so memorable. Epic intro.
Share It With Jesus: Picking out a favorite on this project would be hard enough, but this one is hard to top. And it starts with the southern, soulful elements of Gerald’s fingers in the piano intro. The kid could play. Still can. The first verse is shared by Trammell adding a little crooning, and Wolfe offering a smooth counterpoint of easy listening force (more on that later). This song is like liquid on a cabinet. It spreads slowly, and you think it’s gonna do something big, and it just mellows out, with the harmonies carrying out the last chorus with a little edge off the top. Easy to spread, easy to clean up. From a spiritual standpoint, the message is simple…
just bring your burden
and share it with Jesus..
By this track (as the first), you’ll notice the reverb on the Creasman percussion line. And with the exception of a couple of tracks, it’s pretty prevalent. I like it. I know that it’s vintage. GV re-cut this on the 2008 “Not Alone” project. It must have a special place in Mr. Wolfe’s heart.
New Wine: Southern gospel…I mean southern gospel at its finest. Previously sang by the Murray, English, Lowry of GVB, this cut gives us our first glimpse of Allman. I never knew what to do with this as a kid. Even though it wasn’t moonshine, is this implying I can drink new wine, rather than what all the wine geeks suggested…waiting for it age? I digress. While it totally fit with the overall style of the song, on this number, Allman sounds a bit “country twang”. What I wonder is how much of that “twang” was Allman’s early dialect, or if thematically…he stayed true to the specificity of the musical aspect of the song’s structure. But fast-forward 20 years.
In The Shelter of His Arms: Many mistake baritones as kinda plain vanilla in their approach to singing, focusing on the blend…and Trammell does that, but it’s vanilla with flavor, not plain vanilla . It’s homemade. It’s within him. He provides passion in what he can do, and a few distinctive “Markisms”, that others try to emulate. What baritone wouldn’t want to emulate him to some extent? If I didn’t already sound worse than Bill Gaither, I know that I would. It sounds as if there was even a bit more freedom for him to roam and stretch vocally without the confinement of The Cats…no bass. No Funderburk. No Payne. Not that The Cats purposefully confined him at all, but now he was called upon to do other things. He had a much bigger task. In this rendition, you will find the inner Trammell in us all.
I Will Glorify Him: Another treasure of a song. If you’ve heard any of Wolfe’s previous solo albums in between The Cats and GV, this sounds like a song straight out of his songbook. A little inspo is mixed, with Wolfe banging ever so eloquently on the keys. In this cut, Allman is true and bold and most importantly, unfinished. A kid with confidence…even if with some pressure. These guys were some of his gospel music idols. Sometimes, with the stress to be your own musical personality, you have to go after familiar things in other ways.
Feelin’ At Home In The Presence of Jesus: Smoooooth. This song was recorded on The Cathedrals “Greater” album, released in ’81 or so and sung by Payne. Not a typical Cats staple, GV re-created a gem by adding a new arrangement, and speeding it up a bit. I would just copy and paste the same thing regarding Trammell that I did for “In The Shelter Of His Arms” if it wouldn’t sound redundant. But this track and arrangement is fresh. Crank it loud and listen to the very last 2 seconds. Allman sustains his note a split longer than everyone else. FNR for mixing engineer? Mr. Wolfe, if you read this…whenever you get the rights from Benson and re-master it…keep it. It’s real. Imperfect. When machines begin to do our singing in 20 years, we’ll know this track was recorded by humans.
On A Journey: As the Southern Gospel Gardener notes, the only time you hear the lyric “on a journey” is the opening line. That’s it. It’s done. While not drastically unique, in the tiny world of southern gospel, it is. If you name an album after one of your songs, or more specifically, name a song after something that’s not really even in the chorus, usually it’s a unique dynamic. Thank Joe DiQuattro. As I previously stated, this album was originally entitled “Share It With Jesus”. You’ll be lucky to find a copy of it with that title. I’ll be honest, I don’t know the first single, but I know this was released to radio, and did well for a brand new group. A rather safe choice…
The Eyes of Jesus: If you don’t own this CD, then I hope you own Gerald Wolfe’s “Until Now” release that chronicles his dearest recorded songs, plus a couple of extra bonus songs. And if you don’t own it, get it…or else you won’t be able to hear it. From a purely musical standpoint, this song doesn’t immediately stand out. It’s subtle and its solid. Written by Joel Hemphill and previously recorded by The Hemphills, Happy Goodmans, and Florida Boys, it struck a chord with listeners that the new trio would bring back the classics with new life. (In this genre, it’s required). Back to Wolfe…it astonishes me how effortlessly it is for him to be change gears. Some can change gears, but to do it so well and progressively…I can’t wrap my mind around it. He’d go from this gentle, brilliantly soothing lead. And then out of nowhere you realize he’s bringing the heat and the power. I know it was a while before he ever won Favorite “Anything” from the Singing News, but Wolfe is special and always has been…and his legacy will forever endure. He has always loved what he does and his voice would send shockwaves down the spines of grown men. It goes far beyond “Champion of Love”. It may not have anything to do with his stature. The little giant, indeed.
The Love That Lifts Me: Written by Allman’s sister, this cut features him in his rawest, soon to be groomed, youthful voice. The Booth Brothers later recorded this in the mid 90s. This would be a good place to analyze the fact that even though one could make an argument that he is a natural tenor, he was barely in his twenties, never sang full-time, and with honing his craft, the range would come. There is still some twang, and he pushes it a little. But what is also clear, is that he wasn’t and probably would never be a tenor of the screaming kind. The “every group needs to have someone to sing the ladies part” joke wouldn’t fully apply here. That wasn’t what he brought to the table. Furthermore, The Cats never did hire screaming tenors either. They hired true tenors, mostly free-agent and semi-experienced tenors. Wolfe and Trammell drafted Allman, plucking him straight out of the farm system, knowing he had what they were looking for, and years later, exponentially more. Now, it seems effortless and pure. Imagine him singing this now…
I Sing The Mighty Power: If you’ve seen any of the reunion videos, the story goes that this was the first song they actually arranged and practiced while Allman was trying out, in a vehicle of all places. Wolfe and Trammell talk like they were on the fence at first, but they may have heard something special in those few brief moments. A very special blend, with potential for more of that special “something”. Twisting, an old Couriers rendition, this is captivating. Captivating because, even with a studio, you can’t hide behind soundtracks. Variety accomplished. Bliss displayed.
Stout with re-verb, epic drum licks and intros, strong songs, a variety of styles, and brilliant voices, this project endures.
The thing that has fascinates me about “Debut Projects” is that many times, it leads us somewhere… a vision, a style, a direction. Looking throughout what I’ve covered so far, BF&A, Won By One (RIP), GVB, the foundation was set by something substantial that has still carried over into today. Tweaked, of course. Significantly changed, sometimes. But underneath it all, lies an original thought of the potential for what could be done and the goals and ideals of what is important to the new group, individually and collectively. This version of Greater Vision didn’t last too long. But that enhances the mystique. One of the best trios you ever heard in the 90s would be Greater Vision and you may have not even realized it. Or maybe, you did. Rodney Griffin came…and has been a rock. Solid, endearing, consistent, dynamic. Lean on him. Waldroup came and brought even more youthfulness to the GV enterprise, and he delighted gospel music fans across the country. But further back…was a foundation, “On A Journey”. Re-discover it. If you weren’t there, discover it.
Hearing other artists praising it years later has led to a type of cult status on some levels. Afterall, I’d say there were more cassettes released than CD’s. And if Benson still owns the rights, you might not see its re-release for a long while. There could be a lot of discussion if I were to ask you that if you could own 1 Greater Vision project, which one would it be.. And we would probably get 8-10 different answers. But when all is said and done, the argument can be made that “On A Journey” is not only special music with a special blend, and great songs, but it raised the bar for trios, and set Greater Vision in motion. A motion that has sustained.
Enjoy the Gardener’s thoughts of “On A Journey”.