East of the River
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 May
Robin Mark has served as worship leader of Christian Fellowship Church in Belfast, Ireland for 18 years, releasing albums throughout most of that tenure. But it wasn't until 1999 that he was greeted with international acclaim, as Revival in Belfast became one of those landmark albums that heralded the worldwide renaissance of contemporary worship. Not that Mark's style is completely "contemporary," rooted in traditional Celtic music as it is. But evidenced by songs like "Revival" and "Days of Elijah," the worship veteran has revealed a knack for congregational-friendly melodies that have gradually established him as the Irish equivalent to Paul Baloche and Don Moen.
That knack is manifested again through his studio project East of the River. Those gravitating more to modern hymns like "In Christ Alone" and "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" will surely appreciate the similar traditional-yet-contemporary approach of "Heaven's Gates," "Fortress," and "Highly Exalted"—all collaborations between Mark and Baloche that are grounded in scriptural depth. Others like "Arise and Shine" and "O Amazing" (yet another to riff from "Amazing Grace") have a more simplistic inspirational quality to them reminiscent of Moen and John Michael Talbot, though the beautiful "Lost and Found" shows rich lyricism concerning Jesus using life's storms for good.
What works against Mark is homogeny—the tendency for everything to sound the same, which is only magnified after more than an hour of music. Not that the music doesn't vary somewhat, but celebratory jigs like "Mary Lee" and "Tripping Up the Stairs" feel more obligatory than necessary, and "Central Station" seems an odd inclusion as the album's only non-worship song about a missed opportunity to share the gospel. Though Mark's Celtic style is what helps distinguish him, nearly every track uses Irish flutes and pipes to the point where it becomes routine. Though predictably pushing all the expected buttons, this album still successfully utilizes a specific sound to carry Mark's obvious gifts as a songwriter, yielding a well-crafted expression of worship.