|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: Greg McNeily|
|Record Label: Born Twice||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1985/2010||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 37:33|
Vision can trace its inception to two separate events. The first occurred in 1983 when the youth pastor of a Jacksonville, Florida Assembly of God asked the praise and worship team to form a band to put on a series of concerts for a local youth group. Vision would emerge would emerge from out of this band, initially comprising founding member guitarist/vocalist Rocco Marshall but soon to include drummer Mike Maple, multi instrumentalist Leonard Jones and keyboardist David Jinright.
The second, taking place in 1977, was the tragic plane crash that killed Lynyrd Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines and seriously injured several others, including bassist Leon Wilkeson and keyboardist Billy Powell. Wilkeson and Powell, both on extended hiatus from music in the wake of the crash, eventually joined the ranks of Vision: Wilkeson came on board after attending a series of rehearsals that found him learning the bands material and Powell upon hearing a demo version of the track “Fight The Good Fight” while in jail for a DUI.
Powell goes into further detail about how he joined the group in the book Freebirds: The Lynyrd Skynyrd Story: "It's a long story how I got in a Christian band. I was in jail for DUI and that's where I met Jesus, actually. I became a Christian, and shortly after I got out of jail, I met (Rocco) Marshall, who is the lead singer and the main songwriter of Vision. Next thing you know, I was going to church and I was in a Christian band for four years.”
Vision debuted in 1984 with a nine song self-titled custom release that would soon go out of print and become a hard to find and pricey collector’s item. The group proceeded to sign with Heartland Records for its follow up release, also self-titled but featuring ten songs and coming out in 1985.
Vision’s 1984 debut was later re-mastered and re-issued by Born Twice Records in 2010 under the new title Mountain In The Sky. The re-issue also included bonus tracks in which Leon and Billy shared powerful testimonies in regards to the difference God has made in their lives. The second Vision self-titled release was re-mastered and re-issued by Born Twice Records – maintaining the same title and artwork – also in 2010.
Vision breaks down into two “side” or “halves”. The first features re-recorded versions of five MITS tracks and the second five more recorded exclusively for the project. In my review of MITS I describe Vision as a “joining of commercial hard rock and classic rock with a heavy seventies and eighties slant. The occasional progressive overtone, at the same time, cannot help but bring to mind Kansas or even AD. Of course, with two former Lynyrd Skynryd members you are going to get some hard edged southern influences as well (think 38 Special).” The same holds true here but this time with a bit more emphasis on polish and the commercial. Some of those previously referenced “progressive overtones” and “southern influences”, as a result, are lost in the process (observation and not a critique).
The polish in question comes about as a result of the albums obvious bigger budget production values. There is good and bad here. Good in that Vision is slightly heavier - in comparison to MITS - while featuring a stronger drum sound. Bad in that, quoting from a review back in the day, “the (presumed) bigger budget and sterilized studio environment sanded off some of the grit and edge (the) first album contained”. My overall feeling is that MITS better reflects the group’s true sound but the strengths to the Vision production cannot be discounted either.
The five original MITS tracks, for the most part, translate well in a bigger budget production environment. “Dynamos” and “Lord Is My Joy” remain energetic rockers and “Old Man” and “Soldiers Song” more laid back pieces with pronounced melodies. “Dedicated” is the track, in my opinion, benefiting most from the more polished feel to the production here.
Of the five new tracks, “Standing On The Rock” is a Christian hard rock classic that ranks with the finest the genre has produced. We also get a couple of other hard rockers, “Don’t Say Its Over” and “You Are My Only Lord”, along with a boogie flavored high energy piece, “You’re The One”. Rounding things out is a customary (albeit predictable) ballad in “Psalm 23”.
Now, with “Standing On The Rock” being the lone exception, I find the new Vision material to be good as opposed to great- at least in comparison to the better MITS songs. And that is what separates the two releases – in my opinion – in that MITS features the all around stronger songwriting. I cannot help but think that Vision would have been better off re-recording all nine MITS songs (trust me, they are that good) while including “Standing On The Rock” as the tenth track. If they had gone that route we would have a classic on our hands, as close to a 100% review as you could get!
Rocco Marshall continues to bring his crystal clear rock voice, which perfectly aligns itself with the music at hand. Fans of Steve Perry (Journey), Steve Walsh (Kansas), Greg X. Volz (Petra) and Michael Gleason (AD) will find a lot to like in his smooth as silk style. He also forms quite the able guitar team with Leonard Jones, the two decorating the project with their refreshing duel lead guitar soloing and bountiful guitar harmonies. But it is Billy Powell who ultimately steals the show in that his work on piano comes across that much more pronounced here than on MITS. He adds, for instance, a piano solo to “Dynamos” that was not on the original while making his presence felt on “Old Man”, “You’re The One” and several others.
Note: For a lyrical breakdown of the first five tracks please see my review of MITS.
“Dynamos” represents a fitting album opener with its up-tempo disposition. The song maintains its guitar driven edge but deviates from the original in allowing Billy Powell to really cut loose (as already noted, he adds a piano solo which was not on the MITS version). In the end the hook driven proclivity and lively impetus will have you singing along in no time
“Lord Is My Joy” takes a bit of a step back here. The MITS version proves a musical expression of mirthfulness with its rollicking feel and unreserved aura. On Vision, however, it comes across tighter – almost held in check – as if an extra element of energy has been drained from the band. This is one instance in which the more polished production might have gone a bit too far. Still, far from a bad effort and certain to hold up under repeated play.
“Old Man” proves a good song remains a good song irregardless of production or recording technique. Yes, keyboards also play a forward role on the Vision rendering – Billy Powell sounds right at home here – but it is the abundant melody that ultimately puts things over the top. Rocco maintains the soulful feel to his vocal delivery.
I found “Dedicated” to come across a bit flat on MITS. The song, an eighties influenced rocker, however, comes to life as a result of the more polished feel to the Vision production. I find the hook to now bring the more persuasive feel and the songs faster and slower passages more defined, with the end result that “Dedicated” flows that much better overall.
“Soldiers Song”, another melody driven piece, finds Vision in fine form. The song highlights an emotional touch with its ballad based feel and wonderful guitar harmonies. Of particular note are the instrumental stretches in which Rocco and Leonard showcase their bluesy soloing abilities. This one almost sends shivers down my spine.
“Standing On The Rock”, a classic if there ever was one, can best be described as a Christian rockers anthem. The song prevails with its over the top chorus - “Standing on the Rock/Oh, are you standing?” – and edgy underpinning of rhythm guitar. A rollicking piano solo decorates an extensive instrumental section while some heavy duty backing vocals help close things out. Again, what we have here is a Christian rock anthem:
Raised up in the middle of a bad situation
Rose up to fight the world’s degradation
I’m gonna fight it, well, how ‘bout you?
Where will you be standing when the battle’s through? I’ll be
Standing on the rock…
A deadly dragon, well he’s deadly so it seems
A roaring lion who stalks me in my dreams
I’m gonna fight ‘em, well, how ‘bout you?
Though his face is always changing
His disguises I see through ‘cause I’m
Standing on the rock…
“Don’t Say Its Over” maintains the heavy rock sensibilities but with a more mid-paced leaning. A bluesy rhythm guitar highlights the gritty scene, joining with occasional stretches of keyboards – that are actually placed a bit forward for my taste – and a very solid hook driven chorus. I would rate this one in the good to above average category. Lyrics focus on having hope for the future:
I heard you talking
And the talk could take you under
Foolish words, desperate rage
Can steal your life away
I know your future seems so dark and endless
Don’t let your fears put you in the grave
Don’t say that it’s over
When your life has just begun
Don’t say that it’s over
When in your heart this battle must be won
“Psalm 23” is a competent rendition of the well known Biblical passage. The song, as one would expect, is an emotional piece with its slowly moving momentum and acoustic based proclivity. Keyboards play a highlighting role as do traces of rhythm and lead guitar. The overall impression left is predicable, as if the band were playing it safe in following a set formula or pattern when crafting the piece. Again, good but nothing that is over the top. Lyrics are worth repeating:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
And, yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil
For Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff
They comfort me.
For Thou hast prepared a table before me
In the presence of my enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house…the house of the LORD
I will dwell in the house of the
Lord for evermore
I will dwell in the house of the
Lord for evermore
A return to an upbeat heading is taken on “You Are My Only Lord”. Straying towards melodic rock territory with its audible but not pronounced rhythm guitar flavorings, the song blends in some smooth backing vocals for its refined chorus along with a tastefully done violin solo. “You Are My Only Lord” is a song of victory:
Oh Lord You’re mighty
You made me able
You have invited me to Your table
Much more than conquerors
You made an army
Filled with Your Spirit
No fear inside me
You are my only Lord
You are the one that I’ll always serve
You are my only Lord
And in my heart it’s Your fire burning
Closing things out is the non-stop energy of “You’re The One”. This one can best be described as a boogie flavored rocker with its spirited disposition and Powell’s wonderful piano accenting the backdrop. A creative instrumental section features bluesy guitar, piano and saxophone solos respectively. “You’re The One” is a song of Gods love:
Sometimes it’s hard to believe
It took so long for me to see
I never felt like that before and
Now I just can’t get enough
Some men would never make a place for you,
But in Your heart there’s a place for them
If they would only let Your love break through,
They’d see that freedom only comes when…
You’re the one
You can fill me up
You can make me smile
When I feel Your love
So what does it all add up to? Well, my advice would be to make both MITS and Vision essential purchases; by doing so you will be exposed to the bands strengths in the areas of songwriting, vocals and well rounded musicianship. Yes, MITS brings a rawer feel and Vision the more polished sound, but I find the two to complement one another and will prove solid assets to your CD collection.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Dynamos” (4:11), “The Lord Is My Joy” (3:47), “Old Man” (3:19), “Dedicated” (3:37), “Soldiers Song” (3:40), “Standing On The Rock” (4:26), “Don’t Say Its Over” (3:57), Psalm 23” (3:52), “You Are My Only Lord” (3:23), “You’re The One” (3:18)
Rocco Marshall – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Leonard Jones – Guitars & Violin
Billy Powell – Piano
David Jinright – Synthesizers
Martin Tomlinson – Bass
Mike Maple – Drums
George Atwell – Synthesizers
Greg McNeily – Bass
Keith Holmes - Saxophone