Mark Conklin “The Gospel According to Mark” (LP)

Co-produced with Grammy award-winning Mark Prentice, Mark Conklin’s new collection, The Gospel According to Mark, exponentially expands on the New Jersey native’s musical vision. The album’s predecessor, an EP release entitled Starting Over, established his reputation as a major league singer/songwriter after a near-lifetime as an artist manager and music executive. Despite drafting a bevy of all-star talent to help realize his aspirations for this release, Conklin’s The Gospel According to Mark is an intensely personal work.


It’s a concept album hinging on the New Jersey songwriter’s chronological interpretation of Jesus’ life and the New Testament Book of Mark. Including an exclusive devotional companion highlighted by directed prayers, insights into the dozen songs rooted in Scripture, reflective questions for listeners to ponder, and inspiring thoughts for daily life add multiple layers to an already rewarding release.

The presence of legendary vocalist Gloria Gaynor has a transformative effect on the collection. Her plainspoken gravitas lends a strong sense of drama to spoken word tracks such as the album opener “Mk 1:1-3”. The collection’s first proper song, “Make Way”, features the talents of Signature Sound and Ernie Haase. Vocals are the focus of this performance. However, Conklin never treats the arrangement as an afterthought. The robust blending of horns, guitar, and a steady backbeat infuses this cut with impetus. It makes it an ideal first track.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers join Conklin for “Into the River”. Horns are a big part of the song’s musical identity, but instrumental touches such as energetic drumming and discreet keyboards help flesh the performance out. The McCrary Sisters’ contributions to “The Calling” are essential. It’s a much quieter number than its predecessors, but it shares the same rousing uplift that defined “Make Way” and “Into the River”. The thoughtful tone of the song represents a welcome shift of musical gears.

“Mk 4:35-41” is the first Gaynor-led track running past the one-minute mark. Gentle guitar musings accompany her spoken word performance and provide a measure of stillness for contemplating the passages in question. “Through the Storm” pairs Conklin with famed singer and actress Rita Wilson for another brass-fueled testimony of Christ’s effect on the songwriter’s life. The track’s steady mid-tempo gait generates surprising energy that carries listeners toward the inevitable conclusion.

The extended narration of “Mk 5:21-43” is one of the longer spoken-word tracks. Gaynor’s even-handed delivery is essential to these interludes functioning as part of a larger whole, and the soulful keyboard accompaniment provides a perfect balance to her voice. The gentle stride of “Rise (Faith of Jarius)” supplies an ideal musical setting for one of the album’s best vocal arrangements. It continues leaning on the same joyous, even exhilarating, spirit elevating many of The Gospel According to Mark’s performances.

Legendary country music singer T. Graham Brown makes important contributions to the album’s sixth proper song “Unbelief”. It’s the twelfth cut overall, and Conklin’s straightforward structuring of the album, alternating between songs and short spoken word interludes, proves to be a durable design. The bulk of “Unbelief” features a stripped-down arrangement before swelling during the song’s second half, and counterpointing Brown’s lustrous voice with elegant piano pays immediate dividends.

The album’s first single, “The Greatest Is Love”, features the vocal talents of Wendy Moten. This zesty powerhouse tune deserves its spot as a lead single thanks to the scintillating energy generated by the music and singing. Mark Conklin’s The Gospel According to Mark is a fully realized effort with inexhaustible rewards. You can’t possibly appreciate its depth with a single pass; put this one on repeat and dig into its depths over time.

Mark Dreury