Prime Cuts: Medley (Great Love/Not By Might/Amazing Grace), The Wonder of the Cross, Have I Told You Lately?
Overall Grade: 4/5
If you have grown up in the church in the 90s, you would be familiar with the choruses (back then, worship songs were known as "choruses") of Robin Mark. Even if you are not familiar with his name, you may have sung his signature tune, "Days of Elijah." With other staples like "The Wonder of the Cross" and " All for Jesus," Mark holds the iconic status of the one of pioneering leaders of worship leaders with stalwarts such as Don Moen, Marty Nystrom, Darlene Zschech, and Paul Baloche. Now, Mark is back with "A Belfast Symphony." The album is besotted with a gorgeous sound: it is richly ornamented with a lush of soaring strings, beautifully arranged arpeggios, and amorous sounds of the Irish flute, calling to mind the Titanic soundtrack. This is thanks to the backings provided by the famed the New Irish Choir.
As for the songs, these 17 selections are mostly culled from Mark's back catalogue with two new compositions and a re-make of Van Morrison's "Have I told You Lately." Of course, the most unusual cut here is "Have I told You Lately." Often performed as a late-night jazzy parlour ballad by the likes of Van Morrison and Michael Buble among others, Mark doesn't spiritualised the song with augmented or altered lyrics. Rather, sung within the context of worship, this song actually is in fact quite penetrating: when was the last time you ever told God we love him and mean it? The newly composed "Prodigal Heart" and "God of Grace & Holiness" continue Mark's penchant towards hymn-like ballads with theologically thoughtful lyrics.
The remaining of the songs are re-recordings of some of Mark's more popular offerings. He gives a slightly slower but more majestic readings of "Lion of Judah" and "Days of Elijah." Though countless artists have sung about the cross, "The Wonder of the Cross" still is one of the subject's definitive anthem. The record's jaw-dropping gem is the medley where Mark strings together two of his compositions ("Great Love" and "Not By Might") with "Amazing Grace." The seamless nature of the medley and how each of the songs build upon each other exploding with John Newton's evergreen are just a pure joy to listen to.
However, there is a quibble: because some of these songs were first birthed in the 90s, they are literally choruses being repeated over and over again. Case in point being "When You Restored," which essentially only has 5 lines and the song clocks in at almost 3 minutes. One would have wished Mark would have written new verses to go along with them. First, this brings the songs into the new Millennium, making them stand toe to toe with today's worship songs.
Second, this allows Mark to give expression to his growth as a songwriter and as a Christian. Has the passing of the years deepened his understanding of the same God in "Days of Elijah"? Third, this allows Mark to apply his songs more broadly to our daily lives. New verses allow Mark to take the seed thoughts of the songs (expressed in the choruses) and apply them in our lives via the verses. This allows the songs to gain a greater anchor in our lives. Despite being an excellent album, one would have also wish to see Mark growing with the passing of time too.