Like last week’s look back on Randy Stonehill’s Until We Have Wings, here we take another look at a singer-songwriter/acoustic work of art, attempting the best we can to try to put words to this deep, poetic, refreshing and pinnacle release from the late Rich Mullins: A Liturgy, A Legacy & A Ragamuffin Band.
Like I said, it’s hard to describe just how this album is. You just have to taste it for yourself. It’s not that it’s experimental in an artsy sort of way; rather, it’s something that needs to be felt and absorbed. It’s an expressive work from the soul of one man, yet is also an intentional ensemble piece (hence why ‘a ragamuffin band’ is part of the album title, not the name of the artist). It’s as if you are taking a long walk on a sunny-yet-crisp autumn day; whereas, at other times, it’s as if you’re in a centuries-old cathedral; while, on other songs, you’re in a small country church.
These differences, however, are subtle, and so the album flows cohesively.
Rich’s soft voice is accentuated by the soft, acoustical instruments not only from the bandmates but also from the orchestra. Traditional instruments such as the accordion and the hammered dulcimer are also a nice touch. Although unusual for a contemporary album, both the dulcimer and accordion help give this album a quaint feeling; yet the dulcimer fits in even dramatically at times (the dulcimer had become a staple for Rich in concerts).
Utilizing various acoustic instruments with orchestration, and minimizing electric instruments, seems to compliment Rich’s simple, expressive, heartfelt lyrics.
Yes, it’s Rich’s tender and sincere lyrics that accentuates this album’s eloquent yet simple nature. Rich is pastoral without being pastoral. He knows he’s one of the sheep, but has been handed a pulpit to speak from. And so, instead of being preachy, this sheep expresses the rocky edges and rough terrain of this journey we call the Christian life. And it was done rather refreshingly at a much needed time.
When this was released in 1993, there were a lot of people in ministry–perhaps especially in the Christian music scene–who gave audiences the impression that the Christian walk was more joyful, more victorious, more peaceful and easier to be holy than it really is–not to mention those who were set in their legalistic ways. Here, Rich helps tear down those misnomers and just be honest, gathering inspiration for this album from the now-classic Brennan Manning book, A Ragamuffin Gospel (for which Rich so aptly named his band).
Rich sings about his struggles with “Hold Me Jesus” and “Hard.” But he also finds that faith and sings it with passion in the declarative, “Creed” and with simple resolve in, “I’ll Carry On.” Yet, he also reminds us of the joys of life with the Christmas song, “You Gotta Get Up” and the warm and inviting album opener, “Here in America.”
It’s a bit poignant, too, that Rich sings a Mark Heard song, “How to Grow Up Big and Strong” (who also co-wrote and produced the Randy Stonehill album we looked at last week). Heard died the year prior to this album’s release, and Rich died four years afterward; both, suddenly, in their early 40s.
It wouldn’t surprise me a bit that they’re both sitting on a porch swing somewhere up in Heaven, playing some Apalachin instruments right now–Rich barefoot in a white T-shirt and raggedy jeans, and Mark still with his goatee and frizzy hair–and both with big smiles on their faces.