The Phantom Tollbooth

Awesome God: a Tribute to Rich Mullins
Artist: Various
Label: Reunion Records
Length: 11 tracks/48.29 minutes

Much has been written of Rich Mullins since the tragic day last year which took him from this earth. His lasting legacy seems to have been twofold, with his impact on those around him being as important as his musical output. That musical output is what is being recognized in this release as some of his most prominent fans have been pulled together to play a selection of Mullins's best loved tracks.
Tribute albums can be difficult things to contribute to. The artist is often uncertain as to whether they should attempt to recreate the original sound or rebuild the song by engaging with it themselves. This album would seem to contain a mixture of both approaches. Michael W. Smith brings us the most upbeat track with an "adult oriented rock" approach to "Awesome God." The rest of the album moves from the gentle acoustic feel of Carolyn Arends's interpretation of "Jacob and 2 Women" and Jars of Clay's take on "If I Stand" to the congregational nature of Caedmon's Call's version of "Step By Step" to the gentle programming of contributions from Kevin Max (DC Talk) and Billy Sprague. Kevin Max's vocals show a very Bono-esque style to them, but unfortunately his track rises to an inappropriate crescendo.

One of the strongest memories that seem to have remained with the people who knew about Rich Mullins was his unassuming nature. This was often reflected in his best music, and that continues here in the fact that the best tracks have an unassuming stripped back quality. Unfortunately, they're not all like that.

Track listing:

By James Stewart (12/17/98)

Reed Arvin, in a written introduction states perfectly that, “This recording is not about Rich Mullins: it’s about his songs. I like that. I don’t want to worship Rich or idolize him or pretend he didn’t have defects. I just want to hear his music because I love it so much and because that’s all there is now....”
And that is how this project should be listened to. Unfortunately, in an attempt to keep from being compared to Mullins, it appears that some of the musicians went too much out of their way to put their own thing or style into it and somehow missed the emotion that people associate with Rich's lyrics.
This star studded record begins with the most ear catching version of  “Awesome God” I may have ever heard, but it goes downhill quickly. The version that seems to capture the feeling of the lyrics best is Carolyn Arends's singing of “Jacob and Two Women.” In it, she does an extraordinary job of capturing the innocence of song. Amy Grant and Chris Rice both do remarkable jobs of seizing the emotion with their versions of the songs "Hold Me Jesus" and "Calling Out Your Name," respectively.
Ironically, the two songs which completely fall short of capturing my emotion are by two of my favorite artists on the project, Kevin Max and Ashley Cleveland. Each of these songs, "Save Me," and "I See You," also have a member of The Ragamuffin Band (Mullins’s band) playing or singing along.
The final song, "Step By Step," wasn't written by Rich Mullins. Instead, it is a chorus written by his friend Beaker and recorded by Mullins. Mullins later wrote verses to go along with the chorus, but they were not included on this project.
So, in short, if you are looking for something that sounds like Rich Mullins, do not buy this. You’ll cry for hours about how some of the songs have been re-done. On the other hand, if you are looking for songs with his lyric quality and a tad different feel, this could be a project for you.
By Cathy Courtwright  (1/23/99)