Mark Conklin has taken more than a few years to reclaim the muse than once fired his life and imagination. He began his professional musical journey as a touring musician and Nashville songwriter before transitioning “behind the curtain” into artist management, championing talented newcomers, and as an industry executive. He has likewise devoted considerable time to music education working with the Grammy organization. Through it all, however, something kept tugging on him and 2017 brought a moment when he realized he could no longer ignore that tug. Conklin made a fateful decision to pursue his own muse once again and the six song EP Starting Over is the result.
You know he didn’t make a mistake just from the first song alone. “Starting Over” is a kick ass country rock tune, never boisterous in its musical treatment or clichéd, and never wastes listeners’ time. It couldn’t be any less free from affectation. The guitar work, both slide and straight forward electric playing, hits you in the gut without ever over emphasizing its presence in the mix, and the production captures powerhouse drumming full of muscle, yet sympathetic to the song’s mood. The lyrical content doesn’t waste a word and, despite the downcast emotions in the words, no one will ever feel like hearing this song is any sort of drag.
“Circus”, the second track, shows his skill for making you see people. I’d love to know who his inspiration for the song’s character is, but I think it becomes pretty obvious, especially by the chorus, that Conklin isn’t writing about a literal circus. It has an especially well built arrangement that shifts from understatement into a full band in full flight and then back again exhibiting the tremendous range of his songwriting power. “No Savior” takes us in a different direction with a toned down track full of shadows and mystery, but the continued stellar guitar work is a joy to me. Not as much, however, as the beautiful vocal harmonies contained within its length – Conklin works so well with a second female vocalist here that you want the track to go on, at least a little longer.
“When a Girl Gives Up” will hit home with many, men and women alike. I’ve lived this song too many times. It doesn’t matter whether Conklin has or not, autobiography plays no part here, as Conklin has equal sympathy for the participants, albeit expressed in different ways. The steel guitar is a highlight, but not as much as the vocal. He really gets under the skin of the lyrics and embodies every emotion through his voice. “Before the Flood” brings the release to an intimate end. It’s just Conklin and his acoustic riffing away on the collapse of the so-called American Dream with a series of looks at the world around us you can’t help but recognize. His guitar work is exemplary. It brings Starting Over to a close that you can’t turn away from. Mark Conklin has returned to active music making in a memorable way that’s difficult to forget.
by Bethany Page