Bringing to the table elements of gospel, bluegrass, and worship, Seasons: A Collection of the Best is the latest offering by longtime musician Mark Bishop. For many, the name will likely ring a bell due to his involvement with The Bishops, a southern gospel outfit with a rather extensive discography. Seasons is largely a compilation record, offering new recordings of some of Bishop's most notable songs, as well as two new additions. With a penchant for story-based songs, the lyrical content heavily relies on scriptural references, making this a "gospel" album in more than one manner.
Seasons opens up with one of Bishop's new songs, "That's When It's Time to Pray." This track is quite upbeat, containing more bluegrass and CCM elements than can be expected throughout the latter part of Seasons. It does a good job of showcasing how Bishop has evolved as a musician over the years and kicks off the album with an exceptional amount of energy. Continuing on the bluegrass trend is "I Can Rejoice," a classic song that members of certain denominations will doubtlessly remember. This particular recording is quite enjoyable, and is one of the highlights of the album.
"You Can't Ask Too Much of My God" is one of Bishop's best-known songs, and this rendition meets (but perhaps not exceeds) expectations. As a story song, its lyrics are a bit cliché, unfortunately something that is often par for the course: "When David gathered a handful of stones / and where the soldiers had fallen, he waited alone / with a prayer and a little rock, the giant fell right on the spot / that's what David prayed for, that's what David got." Things slow down a bit on "Can I Pray for You?," creating a track that is less memorable, but with enjoyable vocal harmonies. Thankfully, the rhythmic "I'm Listening for the Call" helps reenergize Seasons by engaging with the traditional southern gospel aspects where Bishop finds himself in his element.
"With Me Always" delivers a much-needed duet with southern gospel singer Lauren Talley. The lyrics are simple, but are some of the strongest on the album: "I rose to face the day with strength I never knew I had / somewhere within me a fire was burning / and I realized that last night Jesus heard my prayer / He was always there." Right at the halfway point lies "Remember Who He is, Remember What He Does," a straight country gospel story-based track which is rather enjoyable. The same could be said for "Cloud Nine, Headed for Ten," which is awkwardly separated by "I Got Here as Fast as I Could," a decent track that is diminished by an awkward placement.
"The Other Room," another new song, lyrically explores the topic of death and losing loved ones. Its uplifting message and heartfelt words make it one of the best tracks on the album: "would the broken hearts be mended for the ones who left too soon / when God reminds us they're just in the other room." "Perfectly Honest," Seasons' semi-final track, features some quality guitar work and meshes well with the album's themes. The closing track, "My Name is Jesus," features several guest vocalists and serves to close out the album on a fantastic note.
Those who haven't had much exposure to the genre (especially younger listeners) may find Seasons a little bit challenging to get into. The album is good, but unlikely to sway those who don't already have an appreciation for similar music. Conversely, fans who have enjoyed Bishop's earlier work will find themselves right at home with this project. In a day and age where a compilation or redux is almost expected, Seasons stands out as one of the better projects, delivering quality production values without pandering to some of the less fortunate (and all-too-true) stereotypes. The album highlights are "I Can Rejoice," "I'm Listening for the Call," and "The Other Room."
- Review date: 1/12/17, written by David Craft of Jesusfreakhideout.com