Mark Conklin releases “Starting Over” (EP)
Starting Over is a six song EP release from country/Americana songwriter Mark D. Conklin. Conklin’s multi-year story of first working as a songwriter and touring musician, plying his craft in country music’s spiritual home Nashville, moving into a behind the scenes role, and then reclaiming his art with this release is important to understanding the songs. It isn’t essential however. These six songs stand on their own as intensely personal statements, some achieve that through revealing characterizations, and the cumulative effect of its musical trajectory is certain to leave many listeners quite happy.
“Starting Over” sports memorable lyrics that are confessional without ever making you wince or seeming overwrought. It’s a notable accomplishment to manage and the skill level Conklin demonstrates doing so illustrates the considerable experience he invests in these songs. He’s accompanied by some first class musicians throughout the course of these six songs and they introduce their prowess with understated style and sophistication on this song.
The second track “Circus” is a more expansive effort than the first track. The expansiveness comes from its different instrumental flavor. Conklin steps away from the more straight forward country rock approach of the opener in favor of bringing different sounds into play. His lyrics work towards shaping a character for listeners rather than absorbing listeners in the introspective reflections we heard in the first track. It’s a welcome and intelligent shift in gears. It’s the EP’s longest track, but there’s never any feeling that Conklin is overreaching with this performance. The transitions between its quieter and dramatic sections are particularly effective.
“No Savior” is a more shadowy, ambiguous track than perhaps any other on the EP. The use of harmony vocals throughout the performance certainly helps it to stand out from other efforts on the release and the lyrics miss out on some of the strong details you hear in other tracks. It is an interesting performance however and one well worth your time.
“When a Girl Gives Up” will find a lot of fans thanks to Conklin’s invocation of the classic country ballad. The steel guitar playing off against Conklin’s heartbroken vocal will pull on the heart strings and other instrumental elements are likewise geared to serve the song rather than vying for the spotlight. “Toy Soldiers” is another track where the drumming is an understated key to the song’s success. The way it conjures up images of soldiers going off to war while Conklin delivers a steely rebuke to the constant spilling of young blood for questionable goals enhances its merits.
“Before the Flood” is the closing effort on the disc and one of its great moments. Closing the release with a solo acoustic performance is the perfect way to bring down the curtain on Starting Over and, while there’s none of the self-reflection present in the lyrics we hear in the opener, Conklin’s observations about the progression of American life reveals just as much about the man behind these songs. His acoustic guitar playing never clutters the song with unnecessary or pretentious rambling but, instead, has laudable focus. Starting Over is a return to the arena for Mark Conklin and he likely couldn’t have accomplished it in a more entertaining, intelligent, and compelling way.