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 Jesus Record was started almost two years ago as Mullins wanted to share Jesus with the entire world. As Rich Mullins wrote more and played various songs for more and more audiences, the project became something Mullins realized he had to record. It is a project that just like Mullins, is fully focused on Jesus. Friends recall Mullins knowing that this was not only a project that we as a world needed, but a project he and his fellow Ragamuffins needed also.   
So, that is where The Jesus Record started. Mullins called together the Ragamuffin Band--Rick Elias, Mark Robertson, Jimmy Abegg, and Aaron Smith-- to decide who was going to sing what lines..... You see, in Mullins's humbleness, he wanted the project to be an equal collaboration will all of the Ragamuffin Band. Through many discussions, they convinced him that it was his voice that people wanted to hear and he should take all leads. On what seemed to be a whim, one day Mullins, with a small group of friends gathered around, did an impromptu "concert" as the songs were recorded on a crude boom-box. Sadly (in human terms), Rich was called from this earth about two weeks after this recording was made. Keeping with Rich's wishes, his fellow Ragamuffins decided this project must be completed. So, through many hours of grief, struggle, tears, healing, meekness, prayer, and most importantly, grace from God, they did it! The Ragamuffins actually produced a CD worthy of the Rich Mullins's name, the Ragamuffins's time, and the fans's attention. This is The Jesus Record--that is whom it is about. 
The first disc is that crude tape made from the boom-box. It has been cleaned up quite a bit and has a unique sound. The quality of the tape almost sounds like one of those old records you listened to as a child with the headphones blasting away in your ears. In both cases, you held the headphones so close, longing to be where that person was and knowing it just could not be. Those emotions were part of a man and cannot be separated even after death. Mullins was never one to half-heatedly do anything. This "impromptu concert" was no exception to his rule. Having seen Rich Mullins in concert several times, I can almost relive the feelings that were put into each concert as I listened to the first disc. One interesting part of this disc is that between each song you hear the click of the tape player as it is being shut off as well as some small applause as Mullins humbly giggles. 

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 
hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth 
Who are afraid of being left by those we love and who get hardened by the hurt 
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. 

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. 
The Ragamuffins's version of "All the Way to Kingdom Come" features Phil Keaggy's vivacious lead vocals. He is joined by the Ragamuffins in what could be the most sprightly song Mullins ever wrote. Mullins's version finds him accompanying himself with an acoustic guitar. As the song entertains us, it shows us some of the error in what we look toward Jesus for at times. 

We were looking for heroes 
He came looking for the lost 
We were searching for glory and He showed us a cross 
Now we know what love is 'cause He loves us all the way to kingdom come.  

"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 
This is why a man as Holy as He had to die alone on Calvary 
It was the only way we could ever see the Heaven in His Eyes 

"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. 
Everyone I've come across who received pre-releases of this double album faced a dilemma...which disc to listen to first? Along with most of  them, I chose the demos disc first. While it was cleaned up in the studio, it is still extremely raw, of a quality that would never normally be released even as an indie. As the CD began to play, the quality did bother me, as the levels weren't quite right (too bass or treble heavy in places). As the CD continued I was able to move beyond that--an oftquoted rule in songwriting is that a great song will still sound good when stripped back to acoustic guitar or piano. These are great songs. Mullins's voice is passionate and clear; while the instruments are often a little distorted and there is the distinctive sounds of a home recording, there is a charm about this disc. I am not sure how often this will get listened to, but it is a good souvenir to remember Mullins by--his unassuming nature and determination to communicate the truth he had found. Lyrically, profundity and simplicity meet in a powerful way. Not every line sparkles, but the overall effect is a set of songs which show Jesus from many angles and build up a picture of the duality of man and God which Jesus embodied. 
The other recording is quite different. Featuring the London Session Orchestra, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Ashley Cleveland, and the Ragamuffin band, it is certainly an all-star recording. I must confess that I found the first track, 'My Deliverer,' to be slightly over-done with the powerful string section seeming to contrast a little too strongly with Mullins's original. From there on things get more relaxed, and my initial fears were relieved. Some of the rough edges to Mullins's arrangements are balanced out, and the rootsy sound matches most of the songs well. I sometimes find that producer Rick Elias has a tendency to overproduce drums, and I feel that has happened here--a rawer drum sound would have worked a little better. This is still a well thought-out and put-together package and is a strong testimony to Rich Mullins. 
By James Stewart