Mark Conklin’s Releases New Album

I dived into Mark Conklin’s The Gospel According to Mark uncertain about what I would hear and if it would capture my fancy. The New Jersey-born singer/songwriter has set his aims high. The 24-track opus is nothing less than a musical retelling of the New Testament’s Book of Mark featuring a plethora of artists plucked from modern Americana music. Various Americana styles comprise the essence of the album’s aural DNA. There’s piano-balladry with a country music edge, blues, R&B, gospel galore, soul, and even a smattering of rock and roll scattered throughout the release. It’s united by Conklin’s focus and unshakable faith into an artistic testament that he can remain proud of for the rest of his life.


I’m impressed by his ear for the right collaborators. It’s evident from the first. His inspired choice of the legendary Gloria Gaynor to narrate Biblical passages pulled from Mark, frequently with a measure of musical accompaniment, doesn’t disrupt the album. It enriches it. His decision to alternate these short pieces with regular songs is consistent throughout The Gospel According to Mark. His ear for the right musical partners continues with the first of those regular songs.

“Make Way” featuring the gifted Ernie Haase and Signature Sound is a letter-perfect opener. I enjoy and feel heartened by how Conklin’s vision for gospel music isn’t staid and overly respectful. Instead, it moves with full-bodied conviction and connects with listeners on a visceral level. His version of gospel music is wide-reaching, as well, in the unabashed way it incorporates horns. This helps open fare such as this to an audience that might not otherwise give it the time of day.

The intensely percussive yet melodic piano and fleet-footed drumming powering “Into the River” is a winner. It provides an ideal forum for one of The Gospel According to Mark’s best guest spots as The Fisk Jubilee Singers add immeasurably to this vigorous outing. Conklin’s songs likewise benefit from outstanding production values. He co-produced the collection with Mark Prentice, and they’ve concocted an airy, surging aural identity for this release that radiates warmth. Rita Wilson’s towering guest vocal for “Through the Storm” is one of the album’s unquestionable peaks. The mid-tempo amble of the arrangement never pushes her singing in an undue fashion, and the backing vocals are embedded well within the composition.

Another high point for me arrives with moving and deeply felt “Unbelief”. T. Graham Brown reminds listeners why he lorded over the country music world as one of its pre-eminent vocalists during the 1980s and demonstrates that he hasn’t lost one whit of his power to affect listeners. This bluesy ballad helps illustrate The Gospel According to Mark’s musical diversity. “The Greatest is Love” is another song that bowled me over. Wendy Moten throws every fiber of her being into her performance, and the muscular musical attack of the song never goes overboard. There’s a measured quality defining Conklin’s compositional and performing aesthetic that magnifies the impact these songs leave on the listener.

John Berry and Rhonda Vincent’s contributions to “Oh, Lonely Day” layer the eloquent emotional strength of the song with near-breathtaking beauty. The steady movement of this tune allows the song to develop at a perfect pace, and its incremental effects are particularly satisfying. He concludes the collection with “Good News”, a rambunctious musical romp brimming with genuine joy and happiness. It’s a fitting ending for an album full of several peaks and valleys. I wonder where Mark Conklin can go from here; nearly everything about The Gospel According to Mark smacks of a personal musical peak.

Chadwick Easton


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