A new sound – created by instruments associated with an old style. Lyrics that speak to the struggles of this day and age – told through words that take you back to a place of simplicity and country life. A Gospel Music veteran introducing another generation to the music, picking and power of a well-placed word in due season – this is the essence of Mark Bishop & Forget The Sea, their 2016 self-titled release and their mission for the future.
Mark Bishop has always been one of my favorite songwriters in Gospel Music; I know I will enjoy his music any time I can get my hands on his CDs. The last project I reviewed from Mark was This Is What It’s All About – when his daughter debuted by joining him on a few songs. It is no surprise that two years later, Mark is singing with both of his daughters and a live band. With these changes come a band name derived from the story of Peter walking on the sea with Jesus, a new mission for the future and a new sound to the music.
What Has Changed?
Besides the obvious addition of vocals from Mark’s daughters, Courtney Isaacs and Haley Bishop, let’s talk about the sound. Does this CD differ from the Gospel Music of past recordings from Bishop? In my opinion, not really. Once you grow accustomed to hearing the differences that naturally occur when another vocalist is added, you’ll pick up that this music really isn’t all that different from Mark’s previous albums. The biography from Forget The Sea’s website says that their music is inspired by, “Appalachian, Folk and Gospel music of eastern Kentucky.” Those influences clearly come through in the tracks. You’ll hear a lot of acoustic guitar, fiddle and banjo throughout the project.
Let’s Talk Lyrics
No one can write like Mark Bishop. I don’t say that to put him on a pedestal above other writers, it’s just that he has a unique way of bringing thoughts together in a song that you will only hear in one of his lyrics. On this CD, one of the things I heard over and over again in the lyrics was references to nature. For example, in “Sometimes God Whispers” Mark wrote how the fireflies “don’t worry about the evening news” implying if creation doesn’t take time to worry about such things, why should we? Another neat metaphor can be found in the title of “The Sun Is Shining,” a lyric about the resurrection that says Jesus is the “sun” that breaks through the darkness. I liked this – I’m from the country and enjoy being outside, and I think one of the most beautiful things you can be inspired by is the original handiwork of God. I heard that in these songs. I can’t recall any writer ever using lightning bugs as an example in a Gospel song, but that one is my favorite from this CD. Only Mark Bishop could write a lyric like that. The songs on this CD were all written by Mark Bishop, John Isaacs and Josh Rison.
1 You Love Me Anyway
Message: Do you think that God’s love for you is dependent on your actions and feelings? As you listen to the opening verse of this song, you will be able to relate to many, if not all, of the situations described. Ever feel moody? How about the times when you let fear get the better of you, even though you know He’s in control? These are the times when you’ll turn to God and, if we must admit, the conversation sounds more like complaining than prayer! And every now and then, maybe you forget to pray altogether. You know God means a lot to you; you just fail to tell Him every now and then. Have you ever wondered what the Heavenly Father thinks at times like these? The chorus declares one simple, amazing truth – He loves you anyway. The second verse goes on to give us more examples of human failures – we’re unstable, we don’t listen and oftentimes lack the charisma to end the race with the exuberance in which we began it. Yet, none of our human failings keep the Almighty from loving us…anyway.
Other Comments: The track to this song is by far the most progressive on the project; it begins with a driving beat, some “bops” in the intro and keeps the bass guitar and drums rolling throughout the song. Mark takes the lead on the verses, but you’ll get to hear his daughter harmonize with him on the alternating lines and chorus. Music aside, I could not think of a better lyric to start a project with. They encompass the feelings and emotions that many Christians have and establish a positive point to come back to – the simplicity of God’s love.
2 Baptize Me In The Rain
Message: We all know that baptism is a public declaration of faith. As you read the song’s title, you may wonder how you can be “baptized in rain”…Well, what I think the writer was saying is that the act of baptism is a one-time experience, but the concept of living a Christian life in full view of the world is something we need a new dose of mercy for each day. So, after the trip to the river (that we hear about in the opening lines of the lyric) we go on to hear how we need God’s strength everyday – especially in times of difficulty. The bridge uses mercy and forgiveness as a metaphor of falling rain that comes and washes away the stains of our sins. My favorite line is the one that says, “I won’t fear, I’d rather wait for the heavens to spill…”
Other Comments: No intro is given on this tune – from the first second, Mark starts singing accompanied by a fast strum on the guitar and the bass drum keeping time. Because there is no chorus to this song, a brief interlude of music is played after the opening verse led by the lead guitar, followed by another verse of the song and a different variation of that music that separates each verse.
3 Take To The Sky
Message: Take To The Sky is a lyric about changing your perspective on life. When hard times come, the first verse encourages you to prepare spiritually just like you would for a rainy day – pull on your boots and button your coat. But you can’t fight the spiritual battles with material means, to fight like this you just kneel down and pray. When you do this, you’re changing how you look at the problem. Instead of having an earthly mindset, you see things as God does, from above. No wonder then, that the chorus beckons us to a higher point of view – the sky. The following verse goes on to say that growth only happens after the storm, not in the absence of it. Through it all, God has a plan just for you; strive to be in that place. The final verse brings the message full circle: change your point of view and God will change your life. Go higher, take to the sky.
Other Comments: This slower tune begins with fingerpicking on the guitar and a fiddle joining in with a low, drawn-out note. The music is simple until the second verse, when, what sounds like an accordion joins in and the fingerpicking is replaced by a gentle strum. Between the second chorus and third verse a stringed instrument provides a smooth turnaround. The feature on each verse is shared by both Mark and his daughter.
4 The Son Is Shining
Message: The lyrics of this song tell the resurrection story in a way that is creative and thought provoking. The first verse sets up the story by drawing you into a scene where one is awoken by the earth shaking before dawn. At the tomb, there is a trembling soldier, Mary weeping and the stone rolled away. Now, light streaks across the morning sky and the Son, in all His glory, shines. Like the natural sun, this light rises above the highest mountain and across the seas; its power penetrates all things until it finds you and brushes away your tears.
Other Comments: The music behind this lyric builds. It begins with an intro including a quiet lead guitar, soft violin and easy strum on the acoustic. As the song continues, the dynamics gradually increase to match the intensity of the lyrics. When you reach the ad lib at the 3:06 time marker, the music begins decreasing in dynamics until the song ends as softly as it began. Yes, this makes it a five minute song, but it also makes it a work of art. And the beautiful thing about art is that you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate it; anyone listening can feel the beauty of what takes place in their spirit.
5 I Will Sing
Message: Music isn’t just a business or talent; it’s worship. When you use a song to sing God’s praises it becomes even more, it can be the agent which the Lord uses to heal, purify and save. That’s what this song talks about. The lyrics open with someone who has no song. When the Lord sees this one, He imparts His glorious salvation. Then chorus proclaims, “I will sing, I will sing till my tears wash away my doubt and my fear.” Before the refrain ends, it says that when you exalt His name your life changes and you’re no longer the same. The following verse describes our praises in God’s throne room and how Jesus is the reason why we have a melody to share. When we get to the bridge, the lyrics cry out, “You are holy! You are holy! I come to Your throne and give you my song.”
Other Comments: Beginning with fingerpicking on the acoustic guitar, this song goes right into the first verse and remains the main instrument until the chorus. Then, the bass guitar comes in and the drums keep the beat moving through the chorus and next verse; when the second chorus comes around, the lead guitar is added to the mix. This song is beautiful and one of my favorites from the CD!
6 Pick Me Up And Carry Me
Message: Though this song is fun and up-beat, it speaks of our inadequacy and dependence on God in all areas of life. The opening verse describes our weaknesses; we often feel like an infant, able to do nothing but be held. Without His light, we’d be lost at sea altogether. The song goes on to say that oftentimes we feel out of place – like a random flake of snow in the blooming flowers of spring or a colorful robin in the wintertime. Ultimately, when we have nothing left in us we cry, “Lord, pick me up and carry me.” It is at these times the words of the chorus resonate within us, “Oh Lord, I pray Your love will keep me from all harm…that when I stumble I will fall into Your arms.” The thought itself is refreshing. The next verse likens us to people in the Bible who needed Jesus; like the woman at the well, the blind and the lame man.
Other Comments: This fun song begins with a short intro featuring an accordion and clapping on the off-beat before jumping into the lyric. I enjoyed the use of banjo, bass guitar and accordion as the instrumentation. With the claps coming in on the off-beat every now and then and the good beat, the piece has a folksong feel to it that kept my toes tapping and ears tuned into the message. This is one of those songs with great depth that can pass right by you if you’re not listening closely. To have a fun and meaningful song wrapped into one can be a rare treasure. This is by far the most unique sound on the project and one that I think people will enjoy.
7 You Are, You Are
Message: The first verse begins the story of one who is experiencing the solitariness of being away from the Lord. Their habitation feels cold, the winds cut through them and they are far away from what they know the Lord wanted for them. As they walk along, they can’t grasp the “big picture” because of the little things in the way – what they do have left is aged and worn out. Then they see a light and recognize it as the Lord, the One Who is their refuge. After He has revealed Himself, they realize that all the signs pointing them back home were Jesus showing Himself in everyday things, leading them back to Him. The refrain says these symbols were the fire in the hearth, the footsteps in the snow and the lantern in the darkness. Revived, the second verse says that now they are the ember dwelling in the flame, wanting to glow for the Lord’s glory; ready to put the past behind and begin anew. The song ends on the next verse, one that sums it all up – like the wind that blows through the garments on the clothesline, the Lord comes in to our lives – softly, gently and in ways that are almost invisible…but only to those who know who He is.
Other Comments: This song begins with a double intro, first you’ll hear Mark’s daughter singing, “You are everything beautiful,” and then everything pauses while the acoustic guitar plays a fingerstyle pattern before the verse begins. This is a track that builds; first, the acoustic guitar is the only instrument in the background, then the drums and accordion slowly come in until the end, when the track returns to just the acoustic guitar to finish the song. It is one of those songs that is full of art – and it’s beautiful!
Message: How do you describe a song that has so much depth in it, you just need to hear it to understand? I’m not sure I know, but I’m sure gonna try! The first stanza says that we get lost in such simple things here on this earth; but God looks on things with a different perspective. If He would open our eyes to His world maybe we wouldn’t be drawn away so easily? The following verse goes on to describe how God speaks to us in such beautiful ways, yet, most of the time it is so soft and gentle, we miss it. God, on the other hand, hears things differently. While we only hear one movement in the piece, He hears the whole symphony. The refrain is crafted like a prayer, one where we cry out, “Jesus, set me on fire. Take away the irrelevant attitude in my heart and instill within an awe for Your holiness.” The third stanza speaks of all the storms we have been through, yet, even through the pain of life we’ve never experienced what Jesus did when the nails were driven into His hands and feet so that we might have eternal life. That thought alone, makes you want to sing along with the bridge – Lord, mold me and make into a vessel fit for the presence of Your heart.
Other Comments: A slide on the electric guitar opens the intro. It gains intensity and then suddenly cuts off, followed by finger picking on the acoustic for a sharp contrast in dynamics. Within the first verse, the song builds with a good strum, a light tap on the drums and the return of the electric guitar. Mark sings the verses and harmonizes with his daughter on the last few lines of the verses.
9 Sometimes God Whispers
Message: In this song, Mark uses examples from God’s creation of how we can learn to trust and see Him in the everyday things of life. The first verse begins with the fireflies in the fields – they don’t watch the news or worry about tomorrow, do they? Do they doubt God’s ways? No, but one thing is certain, they know who their Creator is and they know He’ll take care of them. The second verse gives another example – in town there’s a tree standing along a street, hemmed in by a parking lot. Probably not where a tree would want to be, if given the chance; yet, when its leaves turn in the fall, the tree puts every effort to be beautiful. Off in a branch, a sparrow sleeps in a nest. Though not where the tree would choose to be, God placed it there for a special purpose – to provide shelter and beauty. The chorus explains that we believe God loves us and in the realization of His love, we begin to see Him everywhere. Whereas the first two verses dealt with nature, the last two deal with God’s crowning creation – us. The third verse paints a picture of a young mother fleeing an abusing situation. She finds a Bible in the hotel room and as her kids sleep, she holds the book close. You can almost hear God whisper, “Come to Me, child, and I will give you rest.” The final verse describes two girls playing on the lawn – one a healthy young girl and the other suffering from cancer. Each verse describes a situation and how God speaks to us in quiet, gentle ways.
Other Comments: When you hear this one, you’re gonna think Bluegrass! A lot of picking and strumming keep this tune moving; you’ll hear mandolin, guitar and drums. I LOVE this song! It’s fun, yet, has a good message within.
10 Everything I Give
Message: The opening verse describes a flock of birds in the fall; as a creature, they own nothing and have no guarantee for their future. Or do they? To have no cares or worries in this world would actually be everything we long for, right? The refrain compares us with that kind of life – we didn’t have any possessions or wealth when we were born into the world and we won’t be able to take anything with us when we leave. Even so, when we had nothing Jesus still redeemed us! If we don’t have anything, why not give everything we do have to Him? The second verse goes on and says that as the birds know when to fly south for winter, we too, know when we need to get away from cold winds that cause nothing but emptiness in our lives. The bridge sums it up – it is time to seek for that which is just, right and true. And that can only happen when we give our lives to Jesus.
Other Comments: This track remains much the same throughout – a lead guitar sounding a lone, solemn note backed by a steady strum which opens the song. The only change is the chorus, where the track brightens by using notes that play to a “major” sound. Mark sings the lead throughout this song until the tag, where his daughter sings the alternate lines and he echoes her.
11 Ordinary Average Autumn
Message: This lyric is based on the story of the woman at the well. The unique thing about this song is that it doesn’t have a chorus, just a series of verses that tell the woman’s story from a creative perspective. On the other hand, Mark never calls her “the woman at the well” in the lyric, first time listeners may be held in suspense until the story goes into how she walked through town during the noon day heat to draw water. That’s your clue! After the interlude, she meets the Lord and her world is changed. The last verse looks at her story from later in life and testifies how the Well (the Lord) never ran dry for her. Who wouldn’t enjoy the beautiful fall color after a happy ending like that?
Other Comments: This last song has a nice acoustic sound to it and features a lot of finger picking on the acoustic guitar. Mark is featured mostly on the vocals, but his daughter joins in on the harmony in places. As mentioned in the “message” segment, this song doesn’t really have a chorus, so the first two verses are separated by an interlude of a piano, finger picking and a gentle shuffle on the drums at timestamp: 1:09-1:30.
Conclusion: Quality. The tracks, the vocals, the written lyrics – everything on Mark Bishop & Forget The Sea was done top of the line. You can hear it in every song. After listening to this album countless times, I have come to the conclusion that this concept wasn’t just put together because it was time to record a new CD. No, I believe it was a mission and a passion that this project was created from. As I mentioned on one of the songs, something like this is a work of art, and it’s beautiful. If you enjoy Country, Folk or that Appalachian sound – buy yourself one of these CD’s. You’ll be glad you did!