A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band Album Review
Copyright 1995 by somebody
You could say Reunion recording artist Rich Mullins suffers from an embarrassment of riches. He confesses to being more human than the most human of us yet somehow seems more saint than the most saintly. His wisdom comes from a home-spun cache of memories and legacy, his poetry from eyes and ears open to a wider world and his music is a smattering of sage and child, scholar and ragamuffin.
Most artists strive for recording perfection, but Rich Mullins would rather have you hear some "rough around the edges" music on his newest album, A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band. Those footfalls and meanderings are the backbone of a recording project he sees as a celebration of a faith that finds its home in imperfect humanity, and in a God whose love, as Rich says, "is not contingent on the goodness of the people He loves."
That theme in mind, Mullins assembled what he affectionately dubbed The Ragamuffin Band (a term borrowed from author Brennan Manning), a rag-tag gathering of some of Christian music's best players who shared Mullins' desire to make artistically sound music without giving in to "studio slickness." The Ragamuffins include Billy Crockett, Rick Elias and Jimmy Abegg on guitars, producer Reed Arvin on keyboards, friend and songwriting partner, Beaker, on mountain dulcimer, Lee Lundgren on accordion, Danny O'Lannerghty on acoustic bass, drummer Chris McHugh and percussionist Eric Darken.
The resulting album is an eclectic gathering of songs that range from the lilting pop sounds of "I'll Carry On" and the rock of "Big And Strong" all the way to the Irish folk instrumental "78 Eatonwood Place" and the soaring, epical "The Color Green." Lyrically, Mullins also travels somewhat off the beaten path and delivers a two-sided look at what makes "us". Side One of A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin band explores the liturgy of life as a Christian-that foundation of truth that, as Rich defines it, "says these things will be more important to me than my own personal agenda, because we're part of one another and the faith that makes us one is more important than our own personal take on faith." Through liturgy we find the foundation "that doesn't change" and through his music Mullins remembers two thousand years of Christian tradition as the framework to modern-day faith. Side Two of the album, The Legacy, looks to Mullins' own traditions and heritage.
The self-described "good mid-western boy" can trace his family's history back to the heart of Europe, scattered across France, Germany and Ireland in the dreams of immigrants who found a new home in the promise of America. "The significant thing to me about legacy," he says, "is that there is certainly either some terrible desperation or some terrific courage on the part of those before me - people who made choices in the course of their lives which, had they made any other choice of where they lived or who they married, I would not have even happened. The particular combination of genes that make me would have been impossible. So I am the result of their courage. I am the result of their desperation." Mullins' backward glance not only lent itself to producing a gamut of songs championing family, country, faith and history, it also brought amazing new revelations into his repertoire of thought.
"A wonderful thing to do," he continues, "after you've looked at your own family and realized where you come from, is to look at the line that Christ came from. And even if you just start with David, there was a great deal of adultery and murder. And people are just people. Looking at the legacy that we've been handed down basically means coming to terms with our humanity. That doesn't mean that we evolve into better human beings-it means we become keenly aware that the decisions we make today are going to affect our children and future generations. Everybody is human and everybody cheats and everybody gets hurt. I think our heritage is given to us to humble us, not to puff us up."
In his less-than-a-decade of work as a solo artist within the realm of Christian music, Mullins has created a legacy that determines to live on in the guise of seven albums that have earned numerous accolades (Rich Mullins, Pictures in the Sky, Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth, Never Picture Perfect, World As Best As I Remember It, Volumes 1 & 2, and A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band), including eight number one radio hits and ten Dove Award nominations. In addition, his song-writing talents have produced what was voted one of the top three most popular songs of the decade, "Awesome God," as well as Amy Grant's hits, "Sing Your Praise To the Lord," "Doubly Good" and "Love Of Another Kind." Between a 65-city tour in 1989, an 80-city tour in '90, two massive tours in support of both volumes of World As Best As I Remember It, and his 1994 A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band tour, Mullins has performed for nearly half a million fans.
The album has already generated the #1 radio hit, "Hold Me Jesus" (which also received 1994 Dove Award nominations for "Song Of The Year" and "Contemporary Recorded Song Of The Year") and the #3 radio hit, "Here In America." It also led to the creation of a long-form video project, Pursuit of a Legacy, which includes videos of both of these songs as well as "Creed" and "The Color Green." Produced by Steve Taylor and directed by Taylor and Ben Pearson, the video captures Reunion's traveling ragamuffin as he reflects on the legacy passed down to him as well as the legacy he'd like to leave.
But as far as legacies go, Mullins these days is more content to reflect on the richness of his family's history than on the honors his musical career has bestowed. He is currently a college student studying music ethnicology and looks forward to sharing his musical gifts as a teacher-working with Native American children. It's easy to see that what his father taught him is still the mainstay of his heart today. "The best thing I ever learned from my dad is that love is a very practical thing," says Rich. "You don't love somebody by telling them that you love them. You don't love somebody by making out with them. You love somebody by wanting what's best for them and doing something about it."
They say you can never go home again, and that's probably true, but Rich Mullins has found a way to bring past and present together through music and words that are as timeless as they are timely. And when a liturgy meets a legacy, for this artist, poet, sinner and saint, the result is a rich scrapbook of history and harmony, music and memory, laughter, love and life.