I purchased my copy of this CD the first weekend Mark Bishop had it with him on the road over Memorial Day Weekend in Carnesville, Georgia. Since then, I’ve listened to this project more times than I can count and am here to say that Mark is still writing great songs and recording tasteful music to accompany them. After all, this is what it’s all about…
Mark Bishop’s 2014 release, This Is What It’s All About, is made up of of ten brand new songs written from Mark’s pen. A variety of lyrical themes are presented as well as an assortment of musical styles. Country, a touch of Bluegrass, the big ballads we love so much – it’s all there. What impresses me the most is that all of those styles represented are recorded by the same voice and sound natural. Mark’s voice fits every arrangement and doesn’t sound forced or like it’s a stretch for him to pull off a particular tune. Nothing on this project is done “half-way” – instead, quality, class and precision are heard in every line and measure.
Concerning the recordings theme, Mark Bishop told Paul Heil of the Gospel Greats earlier this year that it wasn’t until the album was finished that he noticed how the lyrics connected to each other. “There are a lot of messages that I left for the people I love,” said Mark, “I don’t know if that’s an awareness of our own mortality, that we start to think, ‘I’m not going to be here forever,’ and you want to leave those messages behind for the people that you love so that they know, when you’re gone, that you loved them. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift for my children, that when I’m gone and if 30 years from now they could listen to this and hear a message from their Dad, even though he hasn’t been here for a while.”
1 That One’s Easy
Tempo: Medium to Fast
Message: As the world consistently takes a downward spiral, more questions arise. This song takes the viewpoint of a father who does his best to answer them. In the first verse, he explains how his kids are growing up in a world that is completely different from the one he was raised in. The second verse follows immediately and ponders some of the questions children are prone to ask their parents…hard questions. When the chorus appears, we hear this father admit that he doesn’t know all the answers (in fact, he has questions of his own) but there is one question he does know the answer to… Does anybody love you? That’s probably one of the easiest questions to answer because the answer is always yes.
Other Comments: Musically, the sound of this first one is “classic” Mark Bishop. The choir that “ooo’s and ahhh’s,” strings, piano, and an up-beat tempo are all wrapped up in a great message. As for the message, I think the questions and answers set forth in the lyric are a classy way to kick off the project because all the following songs build on it. In reference to the legacy theme, the line that gets me every time is the one that says… “I’m worried for my children; all the things they’ll hear and see…guess that’s the Dad in me.”
2 Look Who’s Here
Message: Remember what the hottest part of the day feels like? Now imagine a woman sitting alone, shedding tears, with no one to share her burden with in that heat. The people who are around point their fingers at her, gossiping. The loneliness makes her wish she lived a different life, but just when things couldn’t possibly get worse a stranger appears and asks for a glass of water. That’s the story of the woman at the well – and the chorus reminds us that when her life was in pieces the Lord was there, caring, hearing the prayer of her broken heart and displaying true love. In the second verse, we hear our story: days that go array, having to sit and wait on the Lord, thinking that love has completely left us. When times like that come, remember… pray and believe ‘cause He’s here, He cares and He hears every prayer spoken.
Other Comments: This tune has a distinct Country flare to it. Mostly you’ll hear that steady strum of the acoustic guitar and then the fiddle when it makes its appearances in the background. Later on a little organ will be introduced and a few lines on the lead guitar – every instrument has its place and sounds great in it.
3 Love’s Gonna Get You Yet
Tempo: Medium to Fast
Message: This is a fun song with an encouraging message to anyone who feels down. The verses are written in first person and provide an honest gaze into the heart of one who knows what it’s like to feel lost and alone. On the other hand, the chorus switches to third person and bellows the simple promise, “heartache may have you right now, but love’s gonna get you yet.”
Other Comments: This one is an up-beat tune that kicks off with a lead guitar; the other instruments chime in and then we’re off to the first verse. I really liked the effect in the first few lines, it almost sounds like an echo, like there are three people talking in the song with only one voice to demonstrate them. Of course, there are some background vocals that add the classic “Mark Bishop” feel to the song and a few “dah-dahs” towards the end that build with the music.
4 Pray On the Little Days
Message: “Why do we wait until things go wrong, when we could have Him by our side all along?” A worthy question, but the answer Mark Bishop outlines in his song poses a simple answer: pray. We are all alike in many facets, the first verse states, hardships, tears and heart-rending circumstances have all come into our lives along the way. The lesson that has unlocked how to get through those days is expounded in the chorus – keep close to the Lord and just let Him be God. When we do this and trust Him to take care of all things no matter what kind of “day” it is, we will see Him work mightily on our behalf. It is our responsibility to keep in communion with Him at all times, in the good times and in the bad times. The second verse talks about the ability the Word has to change us but if we minimize it in our lives we stay the same. Prayer gives us the power to not just change ourselves, but the events happening around us as well.
Other Comments: If there’s a “masterpiece” on every project, this song is it for this one. Such simplistic, honest, truth put into four minutes. The beautiful tones of the piano and strings usher us into the splendor of this ballad, then the background vocals add their magic at just the right moments. This is a very moving lyric and piece of music.
5 This Is What It’s All About
Message: John is at the end of his life, longing for the things he’s seen and heard and lonely from the status his work has given him – that’s the setting of this song. “What it’s all about” so to speak. What impresses me most about the lyrics is the way John is described through the scenes in the song. People talk about the “things he’s written down” as crazy. He talks about trading “dusty streets for streets of gold.” His hands “quiver” as he writes by candlelight and when the sun rises, he gazes off in the distance “with a faraway look in his eyes.” It’s almost like he doesn’t live in this world, and though this quality makes him peculiar to those around him, we know this is our goal as well. And what is this life all about?…to pray and love one another.
Other Comments: What turns into a somewhat “modern” beat begins with just an acoustic guitar picking a steady pattern through the first verse, picking up the piano and bass in the second and finally a little bit of drums in the chorus. The “modern-ness” comes into the song when the background vocals add some “ooo’s” and “la-la-la’s” and even a “hey!” towards the end.
6 Tonight I’ll Mention You In My Prayers
Message: What I love most about this song is the implied message in the lyrics. They’re not really spelled out, you have to unlock the meaning by yourself, but when listening carefully the application to life is easily pieced together. Let me use the first verse as an example: the lyric here is about using the hard times in life as the thing that helps us grow in our walk with the Lord. This is told by listening to the “patter of the rain upon the leaves,” and how the trees believe that the rain is good for them; the thing that God uses to make them beautiful. (This idea is continued in the second verse with following footprints in the snow.) The chorus talks about being faithful to keep “you in my prayers.” With these petitions our feet “climb celestial stairs” and brings that name into heaven’s gate. The theme of this song is wrapped up in the idea that hard times and prayer go hand in hand, especially when the family of God are the ones praying for each other.
Other Comments: Beginning with the plucking of an acoustic guitar, this tune has a Bluegrass feel with a subdued, mild beat. As the song goes on, you will hear the piano introduced in small parts here and there. It shines the most on the “turn around” leading into the third verse. I love hearing the guitar progress from a simple finger style pattern to a more complex one. This kind of material can be defined as “easy listening music.” Every time I begin listening to this project I look forward to hearing this song again, it’s one of my favorites.
7 The Devil’s Playing Chess
Message: We all know that the Devil likes to play games and too often, he takes it a lot more seriously than we do. In this song, a young man and a preacher take the ole’ Devil on in an old fashioned game of chess. The story begins with a church service – the preacher just finished his sermon and wishes his flock well when he notices a young man still sitting on the back row. The young man opens his heart to the pastor, feeling convicted yet hopeless. But that’s not anything new to the old preacher! In the chorus we hear the pastor’s voice of wisdom…the Devil plays hard. Kind of like a game of chess, it’s not easy. Us? We live more like we’re playing checkers, a much easier game. That’s why we need the Lord everyday – to lean on His strength and receive the vision to change our game plan on life. That young man visits the altar in the second verse and leaves with peace. The preacher? He locks up the church and says, “Hey Devil, I believe that’s checkmate.”
Other Comments: This tune begins with the distinct sounds of a dobro and goes into another good easy listening song with a great message. You can expect a medium tempo with guitar (acoustic and lead), piano and drums.
8 He Can See My Tomorrow
Message: You know what? What we do in church on Sunday morning can flow into every day of the week that follows…all the way to Saturday! In the first verse, this song talks about how the joy, praise, happiness and satisfaction we feel in the house of God can be a part of every day that we live. Why? Well, the chorus tells us just that! We can trust everything to the Lord’s care because He already sees what is ahead. So then, no matter how many years fly by we don’t have to worry about a thing!
Other Comments: This song has everything a good up-beat song needs – a steady tap on the drums, steel guitars and a meaningful message. After the second chorus, be sure to listen for the steel guitars to take the spotlight in a little “mini solo” before heading into the third verse.
9 God Loves to Tell a Story with a Happy Ending
Message: This is a life story in four verses and a chorus! In verses one and two (or as Mark calls it “chapter” one and “chapter” two) we see them lost and broken. But then they find Calvary and “their tragedy has a happy ending.” In the chorus, we hear about all of the people in the Bible that could have had some really bad outcomes if God did not like happy endings – Goliath would have killed David, the Red Sea would have been too much for Moses and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have perished in the flames. Aren’t you glad God likes happy endings?! The remaining verses of the song remind us that we all have experienced that storyline, and when we thought all was lost our Savior appeared!
Other Comments: If there is a message that fits the theme of this CD and needs to be passed on to the next generation, it is this one…God loves happy endings! The tune begins with verse one and two, goes into the chorus and finally, verses three and four.
10 This Life
Message: Most of the time, when we think about ballads, we categorize it as a slow song with a big orchestra behind it. However, in more historic times, a ballad could be referred to as a poem or song that had multiple verses that tell a story…much like Mark’s song “This Life.” With six verses and a chorus, this tale of life’s meaning is a ballad in more ways than one! The lyrics tell of the time when one passes from this earth and into heavenly realms. More importantly, it leaves a sweet message behind for the grieving loved ones: “Oh, what a gift I was given to know you here in this life…” This ballad is all about that “gift” and how the people we share life with enrich our journey. Then, someday ahead, we’ll be together again to share life again!
Other Comments: Not only are the lyrics a beautiful way to close out the album, Mark’s daughter accompanies him on this epic tale of life. She has the voice of an angel! The music is the most dramatic on the CD and is reminiscent of a Classical composition. In addition to that thought, I love the feel it leaves you with after listening to the CD.
Conclusion: This Is What It’s All About was recorded under the Sonlite division of Crossroads Music and you can purchase this product HERE on Mark Bishop’s website. Mark Bishop and Jeff Collins sat behind the producers chair for this project – I think they did a great job! Mark writes all of the songs he records himself – which testifies to the calling of God on his life that he can keep that up for 30 years and do it well. I truly believe that Mark is one of our genre’s most under-appreciated songwriters. His lyrics are a work of art. The music, on the other hand, is just as good. I have never heard one of Mark’s songs and thought, “That could have been orchestrated better.” Nope. Definitely not on any of the songs on this CD either. Everything is quality through and through. I truly believe that if you were to add this project to your collection, you would enjoy it very much.