The Jesus Record

Rich Mullins & A Ragamuffin Band

Myrrh Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret


In 1997 when contemporary Christian music artist Rich Mullins was killed in an automobile accident, the genre lost one of its best and brightest. Mullins's premature death stunned many in the industry and saddened scores of fans.

But, there is an odd satisfaction in listening to The Jesus Record, Mullins' final album. This is the perfect album to cap his career because it so beautifully and simply points his listeners to Mullins' own source of strength: Jesus Christ.

While raw and unfinished (like Mullins himself many would argue) the first disc of this two-disc collection contains Mullins' demo versions of what would be his last record. Recorded on a boom box with nothing more than simple piano or guitar accompaniment, the nine unadorned songs allow the simplicity of his lyrics to shine.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For example, from "Hard to Get" where Mullins is "talking" with Jesus: "Do you remember when you lived down here where we all scrape/To find the faith to ask for daily bread?/ Did you forget about us after you had flown away?/Well I memorized every word you said/Still I'm so scared I'm holding my breath/While you're up there just playing hard to get."

Mullins had a talent for making God understandable to mere mortals. He often contemplated what Jesus was like when he lived here on earth (see his song "Boy Like Me/Man Like You") - and would then make the comparison to us regular humans.

But, the demo disc is only half of the package of The Jesus Record. On the second disc, Mullins' band, the Ragamuffins (Jimmy Abegg, Rick Elias, Mark Robertson, Aaron Smith) flesh out the tunes into fully produced pieces - as they might have appeared on the album when it was finished. To these ears, the demo versions, while lower in recording quality, are the superior versions of the songs because they seem "truer" to the spirit of the songs.

On the second disc, the Ragamuffins asked some additional singers from among Mullins' friends (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Phil Keaggy, Ashley Cleveland) to share in the lead vocal duties. Grant's performance on "Nothing Is Beyond You" is superbly understated - the best thing she's recorded in quite a while, while Cleveland's reading of "Jesus" is awe-inspiring. She touches the soul with her inflections on lines such as: "Jesus - they say You spoke and calmed an angry wave/That was tossed across a stormy sea/Please teach me how to listen, how to obey/'Cause there's a storm inside of me".

Still, it's Elias' version of "My Deliverer" that defines the second disc of the project. With the Ragamuffins, he tears into Mullins' song about the reliability of Christ and his promised return convincing the listener of the truth in the song by the sheer intensity of his performance.

If you never heard another of Mullins' albums, The Jesus Record would tell you everything he would want you to know. From the projects' last song, "That Where I Am, There You . . . " come these lines: "One command I leave you - love as I have loved/That where I am there you may also be."

Rating: A

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© 1998 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Myrrh Records, and is used for informational purposes only.