The Jesus Record
Artist: Rich Mullins and a Ragamuffin Band
Label: Myrrh Records
Time: 2 CD set 32:39 and 46:09
A legacy of sorts has finally come to an end. This cessation of that
legacy has been made painfully obvious with the release of Rich Mullins's
last project, The Jesus Record. And yet, as I listen to this CD,
my hope is still turned to something more. Something higher than any of
this pain could be, higher than anything any of us could be. That, after
all, is part of the legacy we've been left with, the part of the legacy
that will never decay.
The second disc is perhaps more of how Mullins would have envisioned The Jesus Record. It is a collaboration of the voices of Jimmy Abegg, Rick Elias, Mark Robertson, Ashley Cleveland, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Phil Keaggy, and, through the wonder of modern technology, Mr. Rich Mullins. Nine out of the ten songs on this half of the project were on the first. Although they have the same authors, and are basically the same, they sound much more radio ready.
By far my favorite song on the project is "Hard to Get". Elias sings The Ragamuffins's version of the most emotionally difficult song on the project. In Mullins's version, with his acoustic guitar, we are reeled into a whirlwind of emotion as we hear some of our deepest fears come to life. Mullins emotionally sings:
You who live in Heaven
This song holds so much emotion I almost find it hard to listen to.
It is also the last song Mullins wrote, sort of a prayer that he left for
us. A cry to God about the shivery silence we sometimes feel. The main
lines of the song change at the end from "While you're up there just playing
hard to get" to "It's just your ways and you are just plain hard to get".
A nice play on word sounds that hits us hard.
We were looking for heroes
"Jesus...." brings us back to Mullins's world of sweet love ballads. The Ragamuffin side of the CD features Ashley Cleveland singing a hushed version of "Jesus....," in a way that is all Cleveland. It is a hushed song that turns our hearts back toward what Mullins's heart was and ours should be. A song of deep longing for Jesus to touch and heal our spirits.
No matter where it is placed on the project, the pace speeds up with a song Mullins performed on several occasions during his last summer on earth. Three of the Ragamuffins share vocals on "You Did Not Have a Home"--Abegg, Elias, and Robertson. This version steers from Mullins tradition in that it is a bold, folk instrumentalization (slightly rock-a-billy) that includes a dobro, a harmonica, and an accordion. The song focuses on the human part of Jesus who could have been a king and yet had nothing, owned nothing, and died with nothing. "You Did Not Have a Home" also reminds us of that playful part of Mullins who is one of the few artists we know that would actually include the word ass (donkey) in one of his songs and be upset that people felt uncomfortable playing it on the radio.
"Heaven In His Eyes" probes what is possibly the most delightful aspect of the incarnation--the fact of who Jesus was/is. The second version finds Michael W. Smith joining the Ragamuffins in one of Smith's best vocals to date. This song reminds us of the secret of Jesus's death:
Those who see the vision that He saw
"Nothing is Beyond You" is a messianic reading of Psalm 139. It reminds us that "death has lost its sting because nothing is beyond you". It's a song about the "relentless love" of Jesus. For Amy Grant (lead vocals), the song has a certain line that slays her every time she hears it. The special line that exemplifies the theme rushing through the project is, "I cannot explain the way that you came to love me, except to say that nothing is beyond You."
My favorite track of the second project is a lively song called "My Deliverer." The song starts off deliberately slow. After the first verse, a chorus of people join with lead singer Rick Elias, and by the time the second verse starts, the listener doesn't know what has hit them. You find yourself listening to a fast, upbeat praise of "My Deliverer is coming/My Deliverer is Standing by". This is a song that surpasses the emotions packed into Mullins's best known song, "Awesome God." By the end of the number, the listener finds himself, joyfully looking forward to seeing our deliverer. Mullins's version of "My Deliverer" does not have the radio sound of the Ragamuffin version, the part that was recorded at Abbey Road. But, his singing is done with complete soul that extends even to his keyboard.
There are two tunes on The Jesus Record not written by Mullins. Those of you who have seen Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffins in concert will remember a song being introduced as one of Mullins's favorites. "Man of No Reputation" is a Ragamuffin Elias original. Like the rest of the CD set, this one quilts together the themes of Christ's humility, affection, and triumph of grace. They did not have a tape of Mullins singing this song. Therefore, only the second project has this song. The second of the two songs not written by Mullins, "Surely God is with Us" is written by a friend of Mullins, Beaker, and Ragamuffin Mark Robertson (lead vocals). This song depicts Jesus as someone who hangs out with sinners. Sinners such as you and I. This theme is perhaps why Mullins chose the song. The title is repeated throughout the song, causing it to sort of jump out of the speakers and remind us that God is with us.
"That Where I Am, There You...." is a perky, camp-fire-ish song, completely from the Gospels. I found it appropriate that the songs end with all the guests joining Rich Mullins in a new sing along. They took Rich's voice and dubbed it onto the Ragamuffin version, you can even hear him playing his guitar. It's a joyful song that takes us off of the human pain we felt with the death of Mullins and flings our thoughts onto the fact that Jesus has prepared a place for us. It's a heavenly, inspiring, majestic song that
lifts your spirits and makes you so glad to have been part of this wild thing that we call the "Love of God." The second disc has Mullins playing his dulcimer to "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus." Then, for one last time, on both versions, we hear applause for Mr. Mullins and hear him humbly laugh as he wonders why all the attention...
Being a two CD set, this project will undoubtedly be held to higher standards than most. If you are even slightly a Rich Mullins fan, there is a resounding "yes, purchase this record!" in your mind. But, if you are not a fan, this project still holds wonderful examples of greatness. The best part of it is that the project is not about a man or even a mans death. It is beyond us and into eternity. It is...The Jesus Record.
By Cathy Courtwright
Often an artist sees one project as central to their whole body of
work. Such was this album to Rich Mullins. Though he didn't live to record
it properly, his determination to complete this work rubbed off on his
Ragamuffin bandmates, and they resolved to complete it as a tribute to
Mullins. Underneath the tasteful packaging lie two CDs--one containing
a cleaned up version of nine demos Mullins recorded on a small cassette
recorder for a group of record executives, and the other a polished set
of studio recordings of those tracks and a couple from the pen of producer
and Ragamuffin Rick Elias.