CD Review: “The Fields of Love” (Mark Bishop)

BishopRating: ****

Producers: Jeff Collins, Mark Bishop

Song List: Falling Star; Fields of Love; Big Big World; The Tent Revival; Poor Goliath; Every Memory; What’s So Bad About Believing?; The Prayer; He Never Sleeps; Take Another Step; Tell Me What You See; Blue Skies; Love and Faith.

Website: www.markbishopmusic.com

Available on 6/17 from: Crossroads, Artist Website.

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A “concept album.”

Wikipedia defines a “concept album” as “an album which is ‘unified by a theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, narrative, or lyrical.'”

A “concept album” is the sort of thing that has to be defined in Southern Gospel, since its like has rarely (if ever) been seen before in the genre. Similar things have been done before in Christian music, just in other genres. Michael Card has recorded several concept albums covering everything from the life of Peter to a complete album about the Incarnation. Perhaps the closest parallel in Christian music to the project at hand is The Roar of Love (2nd Chapter of Acts), a concept album based on the Chronicles of Narnia (sound clips here for anyone interested).

If anyone in Southern Gospel is positioned to give a concept album a try, it would be Mark Bishop. His story-songs have defined his songwriting, particularly in his solo years. Since Bishop’s dedicated fans enjoy story-songs, they would perhaps be more receptive to an effort to extend a story over an entire project.

Story synopsis: It’s set in a Midwest farm. The farmer’s wife dies in childbirth, but the son survives. The father turns away from God in his anger, and to an extent from the son as well. At the county fair, the son comes across a tent-meeting revival; this prompts a conversation which challenges the faith of father and son. The son has a bout with pneumonia which drives the father to seek God again. This time, God answers with a yes, saving the son’s life. The father turns back to God.

Could this story have been captured in one song?

Perhaps it is something that a songwriter of Bishop’s stature could have pulled off–to a point. But no matter how talented the songwriter, nobody could capture some of the key elements and motifs of the drama that play out over this more extended musical journey.

Bishop’s solos bear some stylistic resemblance to his usual fare, but the album as a whole is more varied. Debra Talley provides several narrations, and there are also some spoken-word parts by Bishop and the farmer’s son (played by Dennis Kuzmich). Reggie Sadler provides guest vocals on “The Tent Revival,” and the Kingdom Heirs make a guest appearance on “Poor Goliath.” The variety helps provide a width and depth to the musical drama.

The album has to be listened to as a whole. Taken any other way, it cannot be fully appreciated. On initial listen, no song grabbed my attention individually. This seemed to be a general reaction among early listeners to the song, prompting the question of whether Bishop would release any singles from the album. He said he would–that he had made sure to include two radio-friendly songs on the project. It’s not immediately evident which songs those are.

I was expecting a somewhat bigger musical conclusion. “Take Another Step,” the conversion song, does have a memorable enough melody to stick with you after listening to the project once or twice. But the three tracks following return more to the musical equivalent of normal, real life. There is enough drama in the story itself to carry the drama to its conclusion without starting to drag, but drama doesn’t really have a big, hanky-waving, triumphant anthemic resolution.

The album as a whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Typically, averaging my ratings on the individual tracks plays a large role in how I rate albums. Doing this produces a 2.8 average on the songs. But the album as whole draws you in in a way the songs don’t individually. Yet the songs weren’t supposed to draw you in individually–they were supposed to draw you in to the overall story. And that is exactly what they do. The project as a whole deserves at least 3 or 3.5 stars. But Bishop, Crossroads, and the other participants in the project deserve extra credit for their innovation in making the first major effort of this sort in our genre, and so I will give this project a 4-star rating.


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13 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. You’ve kind of got me going on the concept album idea … I’ve got a couple of other thoughts to submit, though not as obvious or dramatic. The Statler Brothers did do a couple of albums, definitely not country, in which they put together story songs with the entire narratives of the Old and New Testaments.

    GV’s Hymns of the Ages was, I think, based on a very “loose” concept. I don’t remember how Gerald commented on it, but they did a little bit of a travel through time with it.

  2. GV’s was a collection of hymns arranged in chronological order, from creation through consummation.

    I am starting to think I might agree with Gerald Wolfe that it’s their best project to date. It’s in their top 5, for sure, and I’d rank it in their top 3 (with Quartets and Live at First Baptist Atlanta).

  3. Really? I wouldn’t put the album as a whole that high. There are several individual songs that I enjoy having come up while I’m shuffling all my GV music – “I Know He Heard My Prayer,” especially. But the album, taken as a whole, doesn’t correspond closely enough to my ideal of traditional SG. My top GV albums would probably be Far Beyond This Place and Quartets. Not sure which others would round out my top 3-5.

  4. Well, I will admit to ranking it higher than I otherwise might because I have an appreciation for the conceptual unity of the project.

    By the way, bringing things back around to Mark Bishop, let me pose a question to any of the readers who’ve heard the project. Crossroads has said they view two of the songs on the project as radio single material. Which two do you think those might be?

  5. Daniel, this was a very interesting review. I might just have to get the CD to see how I would enjoy it!

  6. A very interesting project merits a very interesting review. 🙂

  7. I heard Rejoice! and Lauren Talley and a few other ladies were working on a new project with Mark Bishop… is this that album? If so, I wanna get it!

  8. I’m not sure if Rejoice! is on the project; if they do, I don’t believe they are credited as a group. But I do believe Lauren Talley does a guest vocal at one point.

  9. The two songs to release would be “Poor Goliath” and “He Never Sleeps.”

    Seldom would I ever critique anyone else’s work. Greg Bentley at Crossroads tuned me on to the ministry of Mark Bishop about 6 years ago. I have to say that was the beginning of great admiration for a young man obviously more concerned about ministry than entertainment. His music is entertaining, but the Gospel is always paramount in the lyrics he so skillfully pens down.

    Greg sent me this newest musical endeavor this last week and I took about a 45 minute break to devote listening to it without interruption. One problem though was I was driving my Chevy truck while listening. I nearly had to pull over at least times as I was either blinded by tears or incapacitated by waving arms during a shouting spell.

    I was raised listening to Gospel music. My family had a Sunday morning ritual of biscuits & gravy, Gospel Caravan and the Gospel Singing Jubilee. I don’t think I am a novice when it comes to knowing great Gospel music when I hear it. OK, here goes. I have NEVER been so moved by any recording as I have been by “The Fields of Love.” I have to say this latest from Mark Bishop is his Opus! I believe it is the best overall project I have had the honor of listening to. On the way to the airport this morning I had my wife and daughter listen to it without interruption. Both responded as I did and my wife went through at least one travel size Kleenex package.

    I whole heartily recommend this wonderful new masterpiece from Mark. Great job Mark and I hope Crossroads lets me keep some on my own table so I might introduce others to this unbelievable new CD.

    In His service,

    Mark Gray
    Psalms 104:33

  10. When I interviewed Mark he alluded to possible singles as “Poor Goliath” and “He Never Sleeps”. I think that “Big, Big World” would work for a single as well.

    I would have to disagree with the 2.8 star rating for songs. The songs mentioned above at all great songs. The title track is superb.

    I am airing the interview on the He’s Alive Radio Network on Monday June23 at 6AM EST if you would like to here what Mark has to say and listen to the CD. You can tune in online at http://www.hesalive.net

    Tim Eutin
    http://www.bestsoutherngospelmusic.com

  11. The three you mentioned are all indeed quite good. I achieved the song rating by taking the rating for every track on the CD and averaging it.

    I’d invite you to post your rating for each track (on a 1-5 scale) here, and average it out; that is how I arrived at 2.8.

  12. I would like to puchase this cd for my husband, especailly for the one song just another mile or one more mile I’m not sure how the goes. But could you tell me how much it would be and how I can or where I could purchase it. This CD has such good worship music. My address is:
    ruth vaughn
    101 Koehne st
    Indianapolis, IN 46222
    Phone #317-724-8421