Producer: Billy Coren
Label: Music City Media Group
Song titles: The Blood of One Man; Book of Life; Count Me In; Daddy; Down In Bethlehem; Get Up In Jesus’ Name; Already On The Phone; In God We Still Trust; My Home In Heaven; That’s How Jesus Sees Me; Tougher Than Nails; Who Prayed For Me; Wine Into Water; The Tree
Last year, after the departure of baritone Ed Crawford from the Mystery Men Quartet, and the subsequent hiring of Jimmy Reno a short time later, it was announced that the group would be changing their name. During the week of NQC 2011, the new name was announced; the quartet would be called Mark209, a reference to mile marker 209 that leads into Nashville. It is fitting, then, that the group’s first project of original songs would be titled From The Heart Of Nashville.
Fans of the Mystery Men Quartet may find a lot of this project very familiar; that’s because all but two of the songs can be found on the Mystery Men’s Blue Collar Gospel project. Before you blow this off as a “get something out quick” effort, I’d encourage you to take a listen to it. I admit that, seeing the song titles, I went into this fully expecting something of that nature. However, I appreciate the fact the current lineup of Nathaniel Justice, Jym Howe, Jimmy Reno, and Joe Armstrong took the time to go back and re-record most, if not all, of the vocals on the project. Their vocals take the sound that Blue Collar Gospel had and refines it, making this CD an improvement over the original. The new tracks, “Down In Bethlehem” and “In God We Still Trust” fit seamlessly into the track list, though the latter has been recorded so much that another song may have been a better choice. I also appreciate the fact that the mix has been tweaked and improved as well. Two of the issues most of the tracks had the first time around were that the instruments were unevenly mixed (for example, the cymbals were louder than everything else to the point of distraction), and the vocals often sounded muddy behind the instrumentation. Both were resolved this time.
Being from Nashville, you would expect the country music influence to be very prevalent in Mark209’s sound, and the group certainly delivers that in both sound and lyrical content. The opener, “The Blood Of One Man,” is a straight-ahead gospel tune with that genre’s feel, as is the next track, “The Book of Life,” which highlights the quartet’s ensemble work and harmony. Other such tunes include “He’s Already On The Phone,” another harmony feature that also gives lead singer Jym Howe a solo verse, and “My Home In Heaven,” the group’s current radio single penned by Woody Wright, which has seen some favorable chart action.
The other component of a country influence manifests itself in “story songs,” and this project has its fair share of such songs with a Christian message. Bass singer Joe Armstrong delivers “Daddy,” which centers around a father figure who was a simple man of simple means, whom the singer imagines will have a similar home in Heaven near his mansion. “Who Prayed For Me” is a baritone feature for Jimmy Reno, and a thanks to an anonymous person that prayed for the storyteller during various parts of his life. Reno also sings “Tougher Than Nails,” which relates the story of a father teaching his bullied son the “turn the other cheek” lesson through the example of Jesus’ life, and tenor Nathaniel Justice carries a thoughtful ballad in “That’s How Jesus Sees Me.”
Other high points in the project come in the form of “Wine Into Water,” a tender prayer for help from God, and the project’s closer, “The Tree,” which reflects on the fact that the Creator made the tree He would be crucified upon.
This project is one of the better debuts that I have heard in the past couple of years. It defines Mark209’s sound very well, and each member of the group is featured fairly equally, so the listener gets a taste of each vocalist’s style. Fans of the Mystery Men, as well as country-flavored gospel music, will appreciate this effort from Mark209, and I would encourage the uninitiated to give this CD a spin as well. From The Heart Of Nashville receives 4 stars.