Mark Bishop 'I Can Rejoice' Album Review
Prime Cuts: You're Talking to Somebody Who Already Knows, Good Things Happen When People Pray, Take Me Back to that Place
Mark Bishop has reasons to rejoice. First, in a genre revolving around quartets and groups, Bishop is one of the few solo artists singing Southern gospel music. Second, while it is quite customary for Southern gospel acts to re-cycle classics especially old hymns and Gaither numbers, Bishop writes his own music. In fact, his mettle as a songwriter extends beyond his own catalogue. Over the years, this former member of the Bishops has had written songs for the Kingsmen, Legacy Five, Brian Free and Assurance and Allison Durham Speer. Further, many of his songs have been performed on TV programs such as "In Touch with Charles Stanley," "The Word Today with John Hagee," "the Grand Ole Opry" and "the Bill Gaither Homecoming" series. Third, in the fickle music business where artists come and go, Bishop not only has a large following of loyal fans, his fecundity is demonstrated through the release of consistently great albums almost annually. "I Can Rejoice" is Mark Bishop's 11th solo album since his family group the Bishops retired. Again Bishop has a hand in writing all 10 cuts here. However, unlike his previous albums (such as 2011's "I Still Need Him" and 2008's "Fields of Love") which deal with sufferings and trials, this new disc has a sparkling saccharine feel to it. Such felicity though is by no means frivolous but it is deeply grounded in the joyous themes of Scripture namely God's penchant to answer prayers, the joy the resurrection of Christ brings, the comforting providence of our Father and so forth. Fans who love Bishop's story songs in the past (such as "His Name is Jesus," "Bring Lazarus Back," "Job's Wife," and "The Nail Nobody Saw") will have much to feast on here again. As a writer, Bishop has also demonstrated growth: no longer just restrained by the Gospel/country format, he has on occasions on this album he has even experimented a little bit with pop and even some jazzier overtones.
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Indeed joy is exuded right from the first note of album opener "Take Me Back to the Place." Popping right out of the water like an over excited flying fish "Take Me Back to the Place" is an instant attention grabber. Bishop's robust singing, the song's super melodic structures, and the groovy backing all are winsome elements of being a fan favorite and a radio darling. Such exuberant joy is probed under the microscope in the title cut "I Can Rejoice." Here Bishop rightly asserts that the case of our joy is not so much rooted in the absence of pain but in the presence of Jesus. Our faith gets a glowing affirmation when we hear Bishop sing: "When the skies begin to rain, I won't complain, I have a choice/For I have Jesus in my heart, I can rejoice!" Going into greater perspicuity is the Caribbean-influenced "Good Things Happen When People Pray" where Bishop brings to mind a specific example of 9/11 and how God still works despite human evilness. Then he goes really personal with "You Are Talking to Somebody Who Already Knows." Delivered as a first person testimony over an enormously rhythmic cut, Bishop assures us that though he has had his share of setbacks he knows that this joy that Jesus gives is real.
While story songs are very much a mainstay with Southern gospel music, many of them can be pretty puerile regurgitations of Bible stories. However, Bishop writes with wistfulness and imagination. "An Old Stone that the Lord Rolled Away" tells of a dream Bishop had where he imagined himself walking towards the celestial city of heaven. Taking the cue from Revelation 21:4 that there will no longer be any crying or pain in heaven, Bishop noticed that just outside the city gates of heaven he saw all our earthly impediments castaway: "There laid the chains where Paul was imprisoned/there fell the tears from the eyes of the blind/There were the crutches from the man who left walking." Not only have there been very few songs about our eternal home, but it has been a long time we hear of something so vivid and meaningful about heaven. "Heaven Knows," on the other hand, tells of a meeting of churches whereby leaders in the midst of shamelessly glorifying themselves were shamed by a country pastor who reminded them that ministry is not about numbers and buildings but about saving souls - even if it's just an individual. While "They Can't Receive Their Rewards" strings together pearls of stories of faithfulness to God despite not seeing any immediate rewards.
Without trying to be constrained, Bishop has taken the liberty to experiment with "Oh My." With a pretty dated 80s pop style and some irritating saxophone lines, "Oh My" fails quite miserably. But other than this minor misstep, "I Can Rejoice" is a solid effort. Joy, for Bishop, is not just a passing emotion. Rather, joy as these songs convey is the outcome of our faith in the loving providence of God through Jesus Christ. And these 10 songs are the incarnations of such a teaching giving us stories, testimonies and examples of how this joy works itself out in our experiences. And this by itself is a cause to rejoice.
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