26. A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band – Rich Mullins
A LITURGY, A LEGACY AND A RAGAMUFFIN BAND (1993)
On September 19, 1997 two men were traveling on I-39 north of Bloomington, IL when their vehicle flipped over. Neither of the two were wearing a seat belt and both were thrown from the vehicle. Shortly after they were thrown out of their vehicle a passing tractor-trailer swerved to avoid the turned over vehicle. One of them was too sore from the impact to move out of the way…
“A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band” is a stunning artistic achievement. Combining the impressive forces of Jimmy A, Rick Elias, Beaker, Phil Madeira and Aaron Smith, artist Rich Mullins was able to capture many differing voices musically and bring together an impressive work. Highlights from that album included the deeply personal and stirring, “Hold Me Jesus” and the fabulous reworking of the Apostle’s Creed in “Creed.” For the sole reason that millions of American Evangelical Christian were introduced to the Apostle’s Creed for probably the very first time it is worth mentioning!
But what is most astonishing is that an album filled with brilliant moments and long-standing radio hits is the fact that the album is a concept album. Most comparable albums suffer from forcing a theme to run the course of the an album’s playlist and an artists inability to create quality songs that also stand on their own. Every single song here is a brilliant work unto itself and the fact they weave a simple and intricate theme throughout is simply marvelous.
The Ragamuffin band members listed above were not the famous “rock stars” of CCM or high end studio pros, but rather brilliant artists unto themselves. The fact that Mullins could assemble such a brilliant combination of singers, musicians and songwriters into a real band says much more about the man and the artists that a simple review could ever convey.
The album is delivered in two section; a liturgy and a legacy. The former addresses the theological and doctrinal standards of the historic Christian Church and are placed in a traditional format of a liturgy that includes profession, confession, affirmation and worship. These “lost” standards of authentic Church worship are lost on many in mainline, evangelical Churches, but are immediately noticeable by those with a high Church history.
The latter addresses how those standards and statements of faith impact the world around us and how the Christian acts and interacts within their social setting. These are real life applications, especially in the American landscape. With that being said, it is a very “Americana” album at times while also delving into Celtic, World and even progressive musical expressions. It is this unique and stunning musical landscape that makes this album not just amazing for its time, but for all time.
The album’s fitting introduction is “Here in America.” Rather than opening the album with a liturgical introduction, Mullins starts the album with an invitation to join in. After a Rick Elias quip the band settles into a very pretty country/Americana melody in which Mullins invites the saints and children to join in the journey through the Biblical expressions that are to follow. Mullins also expresses the universality of the Church when he proclaims the king of Israel loves us here in America.
The liturgical portion of the album begin with the “Introit,” a common “call to worship” in high Church or Reformed settings. This is usually a Psalm of prophetic passage and is either spoken or set to music. Here it is Isaiah 52:10 and this call to worship declares the mighty power of the Lord and His protection of His holy ones, those he has set apart. The whole world has sees and will continue to see the arms of the Lord. Musically there is a tough of Kemper Crabb here, with a rock and Celtic setting.
After being called to worship and taking their place in the house of the Lord, the people of the Lord will declare His praises. Here it is done with “The Color Green.” Again, a touch of Celtic music accompanies some amazing strings and drums that build into a brilliant, swirling crescendo as the song builds.
The first very recognizable song from the album is “Hold Me Jesus,” a beautiful ballad of confession. Mullins had a wonderful penchant for personalizing worship and confession. His transparency makes this song of confession relatable. No sin or struggle is too great. The song would become one of the biggest hits, not only from the album, but for Mullin’s career.
The highlight of the album remains the wonderful doctrinal proclamation “Creed.” A musical reworking of the third century Apostle’s Creed, Mullins does not attempt in anyway to modernize the terminology. He simply creates a memorable and longstanding melody around the popular words. Again, during the worship service is there is a time set aside for the church to declare what she believes. the word “creed” simply means “we believe.” The Apostle’s Creed is one of the oldest Church creeds and has lasted nearly two millennia. These 12 doctrinal statements are standards by which orthodoxy has been measured. Mullins here also brilliantly presupposes the truth of the statements realizing they are not the invention of man, but the very truth of God.
The liturgical portion of the album closes with “Peace.” This closing blessing reaffirms God’s love for his people and His persevering work in their lives. rather than a simple “dismissed,” a blessing is a comfort and affirmation of the eternal truth of god’s blessing upon His people. Mullins affirms this here with a great and powerful message in which god blesses no matter where one might be, in a Church or behind prison bars. Mullins also alludes to the Eucharist as well reminding the listener of the finished work of Christ and what was accomplished through his body and blood.
The “legacy” portion beings with”78 Eatonwood Green,” an instrumental that segues beautifully from the liturgical musical expressions with its Celtic influence to the more Americana sound of the legacy portion that is to follow. I always felt if Mullins would have titled it “Christmas in Canterbury” Christian radio would have played it as a Christmas instrumental.
“Hard” starts with a James Taylor like acoustic folk pop sound that one would have thought should have made the song a hit. But alas, it was not to be. Lyrically Mullins now begins to express how the truths behind the liturgical side are lived in real life. Mullins cries out that “it’s hard to be like Jesus.” Forgiving and loving the unlovely are difficult and a challenge to those who proclaim the name of Christ. This is the perfect song to start this section as someone who just exits a place of worship is thrust into the real world of living what was just proclaimed. The song ends with the wry statement directed at misappropriated faith when one thinks it’s the things one does that saves them, rather than the work of Christ.
“I’ll Carry On” most obviously addresses the concept of the legacy as Mullins declares that he will “carry on” the songs and stories he learned as a child. But Mullins also recognizes that one also carries the scars and pains of previous generations and events in ones life.
One of the longest lasting legacy for most people are Christmas memories. “”You Gotta Get Up” recognizes both the selfish, me-centered aspect of Christmas as well as the real meaning behind the day. No child is immune to running into his parent’s room telling them it’s time to get up, it’s Christmas morning. here again, it is Mullins commonality that makes the potent message woven throughout the song so powerful.
A cover of Mark Heard’s “How to Grow Up Big and Strong” follows and is a perfect addition. Heard had passed away just a few months before the recording of the album and the song chosen fits perfectly into the legacy portion of the album. Mullins and Heard were very similar in many respects, though Mullins would receive the acceptance and support of the CCM mainstream that heard never achieved. The song is stirring tribute and a perfection choice. The song remains one of Heard’s finest moments in an illustrative career, and Mullins did him proud with this version.
The legacy section and album close with “Land of My Sojourn.” The song musically and lyrically points to the lead track as Mullins once again looks at America, especially the “rustier” parts. Scenes of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virgina serve as backdrops for the purpose statement of the album and of Mullins’ career.
That career was cut much too short. Just about four years after the release of this album Mullins hit the pavement hard and was unable to move out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. One of CCM’s finest craftsmen was silenced. Like Keith Green before him, it seemed much too soon.
Before his death Mullins announced that his next project would be a ten song, themed collection on the life of Christ. Those rough songs were eventually recorded by some of the biggest names in CCM on a project called “The Jesus Project.” Those powerfully profound songs were recorded with the support of the ragamuffin band. Again, we were introduced to a liturgy by a man with left one of the truly great legacies in CCM.