Mark Mitchell Schultz was born on September 16, 1970. He was adopted when he was two weeks old. Around the age of eight he started to teach himself piano by ear. He was also involved in various sports as time went on, including basketball, track, and football. He earned a BA in Marketing in 1994 and while in college he was part of the touring Kansas State Singers. Mark was a youth director at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN for eight years. His self-titled debut album came out in 2000. STORIES AND SONGS (2003, Word/Curb/Warner Bros.) was his third album and was produced by Brown Bannister. In the CD booklet Schultz writes: “I have spent so much of my time like most people living as the main character of my own small story. Through the struggles of growing and maturing over the last two years God has allowed me to see that He is inviting me to take part in His larger story. One where He is the main character and the focus and where I play a smaller, yet crucial role that He wrote specifically for me”.
The album opener ‘You are a Child of Mine’ was penned by Mark and Chris Eaton. Mark says: “This is a song about the voice of God breaking through and defeating the other voices reminding us that we are His children and that He made us in His image and that He rejoices in us”. Jerry McPherson and Gordon Kennedy play electric guitar on this rousing adult contemporary song. Here are some of the words: “You are a child of Mine/Born of My own design/And you bear the heart of life/No matter where you go/Oh, you will always know/You have been made free in Christ/You are a child of Mine”. ‘Everywhere’ was penned by Mark and Brown Bannister. Dan Needham plays drums and Jimmie Lee Sloas plays bass. This one was inspired by Mark’s reading of John Eldredge’s book ‘Wild at Heart’. It is about experiencing God’s presence: “You’re every/Time I turn around/In every sound/You’re in the very air I breathe/You’re up above/And now I know/You’re in my soul/You’re in the very depths of me.../I was looking for truth in my life/I even tried/To psychoanalyze me/Now I’m seeing that right from the start/You were there/In my heart”.
The London Session Orchestra performs on the Mark Schultz/Cindy Morgan co-write ‘Letters from War’. It is one of the best CCM ballads of the millennium so far. It is an emotional song about a soldier returning home from active duty: “Then two years later/Autumn leaves all around/A car pulled in the driveway/And she fell to the ground/And out stepped a captain/Where her boy used to stand/He said ‘Mom, I’m following orders/From all of your letters/And I’ve come home again’/He ran in to hold her/And dropped all his bags on the floor/Holding all of her letters from war”. ‘Do You Even Know Me’ is one of five songs on here that Schultz alone composed. This touching, piano based ballad includes these straight forward words from a neglected wife: “You go to work/You pay the bills/I stay at home/And I make the meals/But you don’t even know who I am anymore/You’re a million miles away/Though I see you every day/And I’ve been waiting right here/Oh, for all these years/And sometimes I get so lonely/I need to know you love me/But do you even know me anymore?”
‘Time That is Left’ finds Ellie Bannister and Schultz on background vocals. This song was inspired by the life of one of the youth Mark led as a youth director. He died young but lived life to the fullest. The song asks some great questions that provoke thought: “What will you do with the time that’s left?/Will you live it all with no regret?/Will they say that you loved ‘til your final breath?/What will you do with the time that’s left?/.../What will He say when your time has come?/When He takes you in to His arms of love?/With tears in His eyes will He say ‘Well done’/What will He say when your time has come?” ‘Running Just to Catch Myself’ is fast pop akin to some of Billy Joel’s stuff. This song is a humorous commentary on how we allow our lives to become way too busy: “I can’t stand still/Can I get a witness?/Can you hear me/Anybody, anybody?/I think I am running just to catch myself/Maybe someday I could fly away/Go to Key Largo or Montego Bay/Sport my Speedo/Maybe grab a tan/A dream vacation, wild elation/Now I’m running straight into my boss/And he’s angry/Oh and he calls me Ross/Which is funny/Cause that ain’t my name/And that’s lame/I’m still running/Running very late/For a meeting/Wait, that was yesterday”.
Of ‘It’s Been a Long Time’ Schultz writes: “Finally, this year, I stopped getting my worth from others and started getting it from God. I took a look and discovered something for the very first time...who I really am!” Shane Keister plays piano, Blair Masters plays keyboards, Eric Darken plays percussion, and John Catchings adds cello. The song begins with these great words of vulnerability: “I know there’s a hole inside of me that’s nine foot wide/I know cause I’ve tried to fill it up with foolish pride/And You go and You take my trophies off the ledges/Idols I had kept instead of wanting what was real/I know that I’ve worn a thousand costumes in my life/I know so that no one else could see me deep inside/And You go and peel away the perfect faces/Dust me off and then You say it’s/Time to be yourself”. ‘He Will Carry Me’ was written by Dennis Kurtilla, Sampson Brueher, and Mark Schultz. Mark says: “This song is a clear picture of what God will do if you call out to Him”. This one finds Schultz in inspirational territory musically and vocally. It really is a testimony: “And even though I’m walkin’ through/The valley of the shadow/I will hold tight to the hand of Him/Whose love will comfort me/And when all hope is gone/And I’ve been wounded in the battle/He is all the strength that I will ever need/He will carry me/I know I’m broken/But You alone/Can mend this heart of mine/You’re always with me”.
‘Just to Know You’ is a majestic song of praise that uses horns. This one reflects on Jesus’ great love for us: “Oh Christ/Had the choice/Oh, to set us free/And He broke through the darkness/And came with a passion/Gave up the Heavens/To take up the fight/He poured out His heart/And He fought for our freedom/Hung on a cross/And then gave up His life”. ‘Closer to You’ is a heartfelt ballad inspired by the death of Mark’s friend Lacy Yowell Oud (31) due to cancer. Mark shares: “Lacy walked through her cancer with her eyes focused on the promise of Heaven knowing that she could withstand each day of the trial because it was leading her one day closer to God”. The words to the song show great faith: “So let the rain start falling where it will/And I will run through this valley/Just to climb that hill/And if they ask why I’m smiling/After all I’ve been through/It’s cause I’m just a day closer to You”. The album ends with a short reprise of ‘Time That is Left’.
STORIES AND SONGS allows us a glimpse into the heart, mind, and priorities of Mark Schultz. The use of The London Session Orchestra, recorded at Abbey Road Studio One in London, England, really adds a nice touch to this album. That being said, although there are some quite memorable songs here, most are average. I’m rating this one 83% and recommending it to fans of Michael W. Smith and Scott Wesley Brown. For more info visit: www.markschultzmusic.com and www.wordlabelgroup.com.