VISION - MOUNTAIN IN THE SKY (*NEW-CD, 2010, Born Twice) Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Features both Billy Powell & Leon Wilkeson from Lynyrd Skynyrd fame!
- 85% Rating from AngelicWarlord.com
- Originally an independent release - only on vinyl from 1984
- Remastered for CD
- Southern-styled progressive rock for fans of Kansas, Mylon Lefevre and Lynyrd Skynyrd
ABOUT THE ALBUM
Billy Powell (Lynyrd Skynyrd) played with Vision after the band signed with Heartland Records for a sophomore self-titled release in 1985. Five tracks from the debut would be completely re-recorded from the ground up, with significant differences in arrangement and production now that they were with a major label. Five other newly penned songs were also recorded, one of which was the anthemic “Standing On the Rock” which Heaven’s Metal Magazine editor Doug Van Pelt would go on to claim was, “one of the absolute best Christian rock songs of the era.” Powell's keyboards, which made Skynyrd's sound one of the most distinctive in rock and roll history, help Vision’s sound resonate with power and authority. Marshall’s crystal-clear rock voice (a la Steve Perry or Dennis DeYoung) brings clarity to a powerful message that continues to inspire and move people today. Vision put together all the necessities of a truly great rock band, combining elements of art rock with solid guitar-driven stadium rock. Marshall and company created a unique sound all their own that still sounds good 25+ years after it was first recorded! With prime riff-rockers from start to finish, this album is rock perfection. Steve Holland (Molly Hatchett) is quoted as saying, "Vision - I don't need no stinking Vision. I'm blind as a bat as it is....but this old bat has great hearing! And that's all you need to know with these guys! Wow!” Beyond the tragedy, the history, the raging guitars and the killer songs, ultimately, VISION is about an indomitable will; about survival of spirit; unbowed, uniquely American and stubbornly resolute. After 10 years of reissuing Christian rock and metal classics, this long out-of-print album has consistently been one of our most requested reissues. That’s why the label is thrilled to reissue it on CD for the very first time, remastered, with exclusive and insightful liner notes and 100% rock! For fans of Kansas, Styx, Mylon LeFevre and Lynyrd Skynyrd!
1. Mountain In the Sky
2. Coming Soon
3. Old Man
5. Standing In the Light
7. Fight the Good Fight
8. Soldiers Song
9. Lord Is My Joy
10. Testimony [Bonus Track]
11. Testimony - Leon Wilkeson [Bonus Track]
Vision got its start in the early eighties when it emerged from a band that a Jacksonville, Florida Assembly of God praise and worship team put together to do a series of concerts for a local youth group. The earliest incarnation of Vision included founding member vocalist/guitarist Rocco Marshall, who would go on to recruit drummer Mike Maple, multi instrumentalist Leonard Jones and keyboardist David Jinright. Bassist Leon Wilkeson and keyboardist Billy Powell of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame were later brought on board, with Wilkeson joining the ranks after attending a series of Vision rehearsals and Powell upon hearing a demo version of the song “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.”
Wilkeson and Powell, it must be noted, were on an extended musical hiatus – in between bands if you will – following the tragic 1977 plane crash that killed three Lynyrd Skynyrd members while the group was at the height of its popularity.
Vision started practicing and soon came up with the material that would encompass its first album, a nine song self-titled work it independently released in 1984. The album, having received no distribution or promotion, subsequently went out of print and turned into a rare and pricey collector’s item. The good news, however, is that in the summer of 2010 the album was re-mastered and re-issued by Born Twice Records – a division of Retroactive Records focusing on classic Jesus Music – under the new title Mountain In The Sky. Bonus tracks were included in the form of testimonies from Leon and Billy sharing about the difference God has made in their lives.
Please note that Mountain In The Sky is not to be confused with the self-titled album Vision released on Heartland Records in 1985.
What Vision brings to the table is 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).
Mountain In The Sky presents with some fantastic songwriting. The album gets underway to the progressiveness of its masterful seven minute Kansas inspired title track. “Coming Soon” and “Dynamos”, in contrast, showcase a harder rocking sound and “Old Man” and “Standing In The Light” a more tempered feel in featuring standout melodies. The notable melodies continue with “Fight The Good Fight” and “Soldiers Song”, two numbers approaching ballad territory, while “Lord Is My Joy” closes the album in high energy fashion.
Rocco Marshal, a terrific vocalist, brings a crystal-clear rock voice that fans of Steve Perry (Journey), Steve Walsh (Kansas), Greg X. Volz (Petra) and Michael Gleason (AD) will be certain to appreciate. He joins with Leonard Jones to form quite the skilled guitar team. Yes, the albums heavier material brings a more than ample amount of rhythm guitar – some of the guitar harmonies throughout are nothing less than stunning – but it is in the area of soloing that the two shine. Check out the duel lead guitar work bestowed by the two on “Coming Soon” (flashy and stylish trade off) and “Soldiers Song” (bluesy direction) to get a feel for their playing.
The group’s promo material describes Billy Powell’s keyboard work as “helping Vision’s sound resonate with power and authority”. I cannot help but think this hits the nail on the head in regards to his performance, particularly on “Old Man” and “Standing In The Light” in which his acclaimed abilities on piano are allowed to shine.
Mountain In The Sky was recorded in world renowned guitarist Pat Travers’ studio with the Full Sail Dream Machine. The album, if anything, brings production in the right amount without taking away from the group’s edge and bite. In other words, the sound here is professional but does not get bogged down in a lot of unnecessary gloss and polish.
“Mountain In The Sky” represents seven minutes of pure majesty. The song brings touches of the progressive – the violin used throughout hints at Kansas – while interlaced with a crisp acoustic guitar and occasional hints of rhythm guitar. But what puts the song over the top are its generous instrumental excursions and what is nothing less than a bountiful melody. Lyrics are every bit as expressive as the music:
The Son He has risen
He’s now become the light
His voice has been calling
From the Mountain in the sky
Come stand with me, as I wait
By the edge of the sea
The ocean will be singing
Praises to our King, He is so
Mighty so faithful and true
“Coming Soon” introduces a hard rocking edge of rhythm guitar. Up-tempo and spirited all the way, the song literally grooves with a big hook chorus and distant hints of keyboards in the backdrop. The flute during the first instrumental break brings to mind Jethro Tull while the second features a killer guitar duel between Rocco and Leonard. This one deals with the second coming:
Don’t be so discouraged when things you think
Should happen collapse around you every day
A greater one is in you than he who’s come against
You, so take heart and praise in His holy name.
I can hear the voice of my father calling out my name
Prepare the way of the Lord so get up on the maintains
And let’s get to shouting that the Lord is on His way
I know He is coming soon on a horse with His angels too
I know He is coming soon.
Keyboards play a forward role on “Old Man”. What we have here is a slower and more laid back piece, approaching mid-tempo territory but standing out with a stunning chorus – the hook here is prodigious – and performance from Rocco in which he adds some grit and soul to his delivery (kind of like Michael Gleason of AD). A bit short at three and a half minutes but still another choice track. The lyrical focus is on crucifying the old man:
So long - old man - so long - you’ve been hangin round
There’s just no place for you in my life, and I think it’s time to
Crucify –the old man
Oh no – oh no - you again - trying - trying to make me sin
There’s just no place for you in my life and I think it’s time to
Crucify - the old man
Old ways = old days - are gone - I’m a new man with a new
plan to carry on
“Dynamos” returns things to up-tempo territory. With an edgy rhythm guitar carrying things forward, the song proves front to back excitement with its hook driven proclivity and lively aura that will have you singing along in no time. This one plays a vital opening track role on the 1985 self-titled release. A faith based statement is made here:
He is King
He is Lord over everything.
He is real it’s
His presence you can tangibly feel.
Sets you free so you can live your life in victory
I don’t care how bad that you seem to be
He can change your life and set you free
“Standing In The Light”, another piece trending towards the mid-tempo, moves its distance in piano driven fashion but accented by just the right amount of underpinning rhythm guitar. Chorus wise, the might be the albums finest with its flowing feel and penchant for the inspired. Billy Powell lets loose and exhibits his abilities throughout this one. Inspired would also be the best way to describe the lyrics:
I’m standing in the light of the Son
He made the sun and rain took away the things that caused me pain
He made the earth and sky took away the tears that flowed from my eyes
He is the king of Kings – the Lord of everything
Now I’m standing in the Light I’m standing in the Light of the Son
Standing in the light standing in the light of the Son
He is the King of Kings Lord of Lords over everything -
I’m not moved by things
I see - I’ve claimed the faith He gave to me
He is the Christ of God in His hands is so much love
“Dedicated” is the lone piece here I might describe as “merely good”. This one takes more of an eighties rock approach – at least in comparison to the remainder of the albums material – with some slight pop rock sensibilities. While far from bad, I find that “Dedicated” improves as a result of the more polished production characteristic to Vision.
The haunting ballad “Fight The Good Fight” takes an emotional approach in upholding the albums high standards of songwriting. The melody is of the pull you in variety and mood and vibe exhorting- it is not possible to walk away from this one and not feel encouraged. A bluesy guitar solo and some pronounced bass lines from Wilkeson round things out.
“Soldiers Song”, the second ballad in a row, represents another solid effort. I might describe this as the albums most easy going number, amalgamating another rich melody with some adept keyboard and piano work and more bluesy lead guitar. Very heartfelt and indelibly, both musically and lyrically:
But this one thing that I do
Forget those things which are behind me
I press on toward
The mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ
Onward holy soldier marching on
To new horizons - mount up - with wings of eagles to fly
We’ll follow love and wisdoms light
Standing on the final pages living in the age of glory
Laying every weight aside and walking in the newness of life
“Lord Is My Joy” is as aptly entitled a piece as you will find. Yes, this one is without a doubt “joyous” in capacity with its non-stop verve and mettle- the enthusiasm proves compelling while the continual hook action of the chorus will not go away. I particularly enjoy the “jam feel” to the songs instrumental moments as the guys trade off and display their musicianship. I bet this one translated great in a live setting.
I would like to close by reinforcing the quality songwriting to Mountain In The Sky. The album brings great song after great song in proving a previously unknown and unheard of gem (at least for me) that deserved better promotion back in the day. I cannot say enough good things about the musicianship while the production successfully highlights the bands natural sound. Give credit to Born Twice for making this available again.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Mountain In The Sky” (7:02), “Coming Soon” (4:40), “Old Man” (3:23), “Dynamos” (4:10), “Standing In The Light” (5:25), “Dedicated” (3:23), “Fight The Good Fight” (3:54), “Soldiers Song” (3:31), “Lord Is My Joy” (4:42), “Testimony: Billy Powell” (2:50), “Testimony: Leon Wilkeson” (2:50)
Rocco Marshall – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Leonard Jones – Guitars, Flute, Violin & Synthesizers
David Jinright – Synthesizers & Organ
Billy Powell – Piano
Leon Wilkeson – Bass
Mark Maple - Drums