The impressive ambition powering Mark Conklin’s The Gospel According to Mark is inescapable. However, I don’t think Conklin ever allows it to overburden the album’s songs with pretentiousness. The dozen actual songs he offers listeners lack unnecessary bloat or artistic conceits. He alternates each of the songs with short pieces quoting from the New Testament Book of Mark and performed by soul/gospel/disco legend Gloria Gaynor. It’s outside the box to put such a memorable singer to use speaking instead, but everything about The Gospel According to Mark testifies to Conklin’s thrilling individuality and inspired artistry.


The New Jersey native brings freshness to each song on the release, and Gaynor’s narration supplies ample evidence that recruiting her to the project was a shrewd decision. Her opening reading of the Book of Mark’s beginning, “Mk 1:1-3”, isn’t fleshed out by any music, but nonetheless effective. Gaynor isn’t singing, but the same commanding presence that characterizes her vocals dwells in her recitation as well. “Make Way” is the album’s first outright song. Ernie Haase & Signature Sound are a choice unit to join Conklin for the collection’s opener, and their vocal contributions further elevate an already outstanding tune.

I believe there are essentially two types of gospel-influenced songwriting. The first is musical admonishments warning us of the wages of sin and failure to serve God, and the other variety is music of praise and worship. Much of Conklin’s songwriting falls into the second type. This opens avenues for non-believers to still appreciate his work, as it’s easier to connect with someone’s joy and wonder than their remonstrations. “The Calling” featuring The McCrary Sisters is a glorious testimony of faith with shimmering harmonies and surging skyward with immense soulfulness. The reverb guitar lines throughout the performance introduce a different flavor to the release without veering too far afield from the song’s roots.

“Rise (Faith of Jairus)” features choice rhymes such as gallows/arrows, and the personal touch throughout the song encourages strong connections with the audience. I think it’s a cunning move to marry the weighty concerns of this lyric with a bright horn-powered arrangement. The song’s bridge is especially potent. Joseph Rice’s assertive R&B vocal chops add a rousing dimension to “Believe”. Conklin consistently pairs his performances alongside other artists whose gifts match up well with his, and Rice is no exception. It’s a bracing mid-tempo jaunt that will likely be a favorite for many.

“The Greatest is Love” will be a favorite for countless listeners. Conklin loads the album’s second half with several potential showstoppers, and this ranks among the forefront of such numbers. Wendy Moten’s torrid singing leaves it all on the table, and each instrumentalist turns in vigorous performances that match her passionate intensity. “Oh, Lonely Day” is the longest cut included in The Gospel According to Mark. This climatic moment in the album’s narrative depicts Christ’s crucifixion with equal parts pain and empathy. Conklin’s musical accompaniment complements this tragic turn without ever lapsing into melodrama. Joseph Rice returns to help bring the song to life, and he’s joined by Lenesha Randolph. However, Conklin takes his leave with the triumphant “Good News”. It’s an exhilarating blast of gospel-inflamed goodness and arguably engages the audience with more physicality than any of the album’s predecessors. Mark Conklin’s The Gospel According to Mark defies cliché and manages to offer something to every potential listener. I’m glad that I discovered this fulfilling release.  

Garth Thomas