Mark Conklin’s “The Gospel According to Mark” LP

Mark Conklin’s The Gospel According to Mark is an unusual release. The twelve-song and 24-track recording have a relatively traditional musical identity. Conklin steeps the playing and vocals throughout the song cycle in a mix of gospel and R&B with a smattering of blues. The scope of the release makes it unusual. He intersperses the songs with short spoken word tracks, usually distinguished by spartan musical accompaniment.


Onetime disco giant and gifted vocalist Gloria Gaynor delivers the spoken word passages, culled from the New Testament Book of Mark. This musical adaptation of that critical section in the Christian Bible chronicling Jesus’ adult life doesn’t weigh listeners down with proselytizing. It aims to provide us with a chronological rendering of Christ’s life, as portrayed in Mark and invests this timeless tale with inviting and optimistic fervor.

The fervor is clear from the outset. “Make Way” kicks the release off in high fashion thanks to the contributions from Ernie Haase and Signature Sound. Vocal excellence is a recurring theme throughout the dozen full-fledged songs in The Gospel According to Mark; Haase and Signature Sound supply one of the collection’s early highlights. It’s an on-point selection for beginning this album as “Make Way” announces itself in an assertive, yet never abrasive, fashion and introduces us to the album’s general demeanor. It’s often boisterous and brimming with energy.

There’s immense beauty present as well. “Into the River” with The Fisk Jubilee Singers is a prime example of its aural appeal. Conklin labored mightily to perfect the vocal arrangements for these songs, and the seamlessness of performances such as this illustrate time well spent. Conklin’s lyrical content is written in a straightforward and conversational style that helps expand the album’s accessibility without compromising its message.

Legendary vocal group The McCrary Sisters are pivotal in the success of “The Calling”. Reverb-laced guitar lines help set an early pensive mood before the arrangement eventually transitions into a rousing horn-driven second half. The disparate voices of this song counterpoint each other well.

One of the longest spoken word tracks narrated by Gloria Gaynor, “Mk 5:21-43” is a memorable pairing of Gaynor’s voice with low-key Southern gospel instrumentation. The restrained keyboard playing adds welcome color, and there’s a palpable uplift in Gaynor’s delivery that elevates this brief yet effective track. “Devil in the Temple” is another of the album’s musical peaks. Mike Farris proves to be an effective artistic partner for Conklin, and the deeply felt bluesy inclinations of the arrangement are a notable shift in gears that isn’t too jarring. It lands within Conklin’s wheelhouse.

“The Greatest Is Love” hits with exuberant verve. Conklin and guest performer Wendy Moten never rush the song. Instead, they skillfully ride the wave generated by propulsive drumming and a blasting horn section. The soulful yet reverential “Take This Cup” brings listeners to one of the crucial points in Christ’s story, and Conklin’s teaming with The Fairfield Four produces musical magic. Few of the songs on this album are as inspired.


The longest spoken word piece, “Mk 15:25-39”, chronicles another climatic point in the Scripture, and the accompanying organ playing casts it in a dramatic yet thoughtful light. Set aside your religious convictions or lack thereof, and there’s still reason to admire this album. There’s something for everyone on Mark Conklin’s The Gospel According to Mark, and it holds up under repeated listens.  

Nicole Killian

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Nicole loves to go cross country skiing, swimming, reading and critiquing books, listening and critiquing music, some culinary arts, pottery, spending time with my daughter, cheesy horror films.

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