Translation Series #6: By the Mark

“By the Mark” was written by Americana singer Gillian Adams Welch and co-writer David Rawlings. About three years ago, it found its way to a vocal group in a universe parallel to ours, bluegrass, when Dailey & Vincent cut it on their self-titled debut album.

This album proceeded to explode in popularity, leading the group to become Bluegrass’s most awarded group over the past three years. The song itself helped propel the group’s success, becoming a #1 radio hit on multiple charts throughout 2008 and being awarded the Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year at the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) awards in October 2008.

While Dailey & Vincent manage to make the song memorably strong with just two voices, this song begs for a male quartet treatment. It would be easy and a little too obvious to suggest the Primitive Quartet, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, or one of the other prominent Bluegrass / Bluegrass Gospel groups on the Southern Gospel circuitβ€”though undoubtedly they could do a fine job with the song.

Taking the song out of its current Bluegrass setting into a more straight-ahead Southern Gospel setting, a clear frontrunner for being the Southern Gospel home for this song would be the Inspirations. Jamie Dailey is a good tenor, but on this song, Jodi Hosterman and David Ragan could deliver Dailey’s and Vincent’s parts better than the originals, and having Melton Campbell and Mike Holcomb in the mix would be icing on the cake.


For more about —and other Southern Gospel news and commentary—follow our RSS feed or sign up for our email updates!

27 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. I’d like to hear the song recorded by a quartet as well, but I’d also disagree with the last statement. While both are excellent singers, Hosterman & Ragan can’t hold a light to Dailey & Vincent vocally.

    • Well, the reason I say that is a key-to-key comparison. When Dailey goes up to the high C on “I shall know…” in line 3 of the chorus, the register change is quite noticeable, while Hosterman could do it smoothly without an audible break, yet produce a similar enough light, floating tone.

      Maybe I should just say they’re stronger for this particular song, since they are very strong vocalists in their own right when they’re sticking to what they do.

      • Question. I am sure this is a stupid question but I always get mixed up on the “High C” on the piano and the “Low C.” From middle C is the “High C” the next octave up or two octaves up? Also, for the bass singer, is the “Low C” the next octave down or two octaves down? Thanks fellas!! And about the topic at hand, I think Inspirations would do a great job at this song. It definitely fits Jodi’s voice and I could hear David doing some mean harmony with it too!! Melton is one of the best baritones around so I know he could put the smooth harmony on it as well!

      • J.C., in a male voice context, a high C is the C one octave up from middle C. When you’re talking about a female, it’s two octaves up. However, for a bass singer, the low C would be two octaves below.

        Think about it this way: a middle C for a guy is equivalent to a C above middle C for a female—generally falls fairly comfortable within a normal range. A full octave above that is fairly difficult, though I’ve heard more guys do it than females.

        But then a low C has to be two octaves below middle C for a bass, because if you think about it, for a male, one octave below isn’t that low. It’s the equivalent of a middle C for a female. But drop down yet another octave, and now we’re talkin’ low. πŸ˜‰

      • Thanks!!! That helps me out a lot. My little brother sings the tenor and I sing the bass for our quartet and I was trying to remember how tell which was which! I know that I probably sound ignorant but in this case I guess technically I am. LOL! Thanks so much!

      • You’re welcome J.C. Glad I could help! πŸ˜€

  2. Let me also add that given a choice of hearing either group sing…I’d rather hear The Inspirations anyday. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for the clarification!

      …though I like Christian Davis so much that if D&V are doing an all-Gospel set, I might just surprise everyone and go see Christian. (Then again, maybe not!)

      • I don’t think an all-gospel set is likely with D&V, unfortunately. I like bluegrass gospel, but can’t take much bluegrass without the gospel.

      • They did it at NQC.

      • That’s a little different setting for D&V’s schedule. I think you’d have seen an uprising if it weren’t all gospel at NQC. Maybe the Inspirations can book them for their singings in Bryson City … πŸ˜‰

  3. Sorry I’ve not been around much lately….ministry calls! πŸ™‚

    • No problem, and glad to hear you’ve had a full calendar!

      • Since you are so close now, you’ll have to go with us when we are around Asheville again. πŸ™‚

      • Go with you where? πŸ™‚

      • Wherever we are booked to sing (and probably dinner afterwards) πŸ˜‰

      • Awesome! Here’s hoping our schedules mesh. πŸ™‚

  4. Love this song, love Dailey & Vincent. I remember how excited I was just during the planning stage of their group, then the CD came out and absolutely blew me away (and everyone else too).

    Now, about the song. I’ve got to be honest and say I’m having trouble hearing it as a quartet song. It was written and designed for a duet like this. The purity and simplicity of the the melody, the weaving in and out of the harmony, and the sublime quality of vocals from Jamie and Darrin make for pure perfection. I think it’s one of the most perfect recordings made in the last several years, by anybody.

    But if anybody, I suppose it should be the Inspirations, just because they would do it simple, how it’s supposed to be. But with four voices? I’m a little doubtful.

    If you want a much poorer quality version, here’s me and my sister singing it a couple years ago. πŸ™‚
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFEMwssEK4I

    • Good take on that song, Brian. πŸ˜‰

      I don’t think that would be an easy song to sing.

      • I really think that adding Melton into the mix would be a big plus. I think he could bring something.

        I wasn’t so sure about Mike Holcomb, but I went with the Inspirations since it’s so obviously for Hosterman’s voice.

  5. Daniel, are you sure it’s Gillian Adams and not Gillian Welch?

    • Yeah, it is Gillian Welch. Daniel will want to fix that when he gets the time. πŸ˜‰

  6. I love quartet music as much as anybody but in my humble opinion, this song is fine just like it is. On the the other hand, I’d strongly encourage anyone to check out a Dailey and Vincent concert. The two namesakes of the group along with Jeff Parker and Christian Davis will blow your socks off if you have any admiration for 4-part harmony whatsoever. No stacks, no tracks…4 human voices singing pure and simple. They are bluegrass but over half of their program is gospel or quartet or both all wrapped into one. (The harmony is so sweet the words of the songs can actually speak to your heart without a 15 minute testimony introduction)

    • I really enjoy D & V’s sound. The last two Gaither homecomings were kind of lukewarm to me, but their song was a definite highlight. It’s a sweet sound!

  7. The vocals of Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent are flawless. The recording of “The Mark” is incredible but to hear these two Godly men sing it live is breathtaking! As a matter of fact, as a fairly recent convert to Bluegrass Music, I am amazed everytime I attend a D&V concert. I always come away having experienced one of the best shows of any music genre I have ever heard (outstanding musicians and vocals, comedy and most important inspirational). Check them out when they come your way…I believe you will agree they are absolutely one of the finest groups you have ever heard.

    • I do hope to see them live one of these days!

    • I’m a little selective when it comes to bluegrass music, but these guys are good. πŸ˜€