Prime Cuts: I See You (Audrey Assad), Ready for the Storm (Leigh Nash), Cry the Name (Jill Phillips)
Rich Mullins (1955-1997) never belonged to this world; the world was far too impoverished for his palatial soul. Some may consider Mullins a brusque waif; others likened him to a tatterdemalion at best. But in God's eyes, Mullins is a living exposition of the words of Jesus who said "Blessed is he who is poor in spirit." "Ragamuffin" is a recently released biopic movie that tries to capture the renegade life of Mullins. A man who was brutal in his vengeance towards sin and corruption, but yet he possesses such a sweet spirit that thousands are still constantly drawn to Christ via his music. The ensuing soundtrack is more than just music set to accompany the movie. Rather, the songs re-tell the beliefs and the core values of Mullins himself.
Resurrecting 10 of Mullins' songs, the soundtrack features songs re-recorded by many of today's contemporary Christian music artists as well as friends who are personally indentured to Mullins' legacy. As an added bonus, the disc also includes two formerly released Mullins' songs "Never Heard the Music" and "Now." Before we delve into the exposition of this album, it is suffice to say a word about the song choices. Three of Mullins' best known songs, "Awesome God," "Sometimes By Step" and "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" are eschewed. It's just like buying a "Greatest Hits" by Aretha Franklin or a "Best of" collection from Whitney Houston without having their respective signature hits "RESPECT" and "I Will Always Love You" on them. Some may see this as a great atrocity, but on the hand, it gives room for some of the lesser known songs to be surfaced.
Listening through these songs put many of our current song writers to shame. Mullins' mettle as a song writer shows in the details he has invested into the song's lyrics. Utilizing the extended metaphor of the Egyptian wanderings of the Israelites as its template, every lyrical twist and turns in "I See You" is besotted with key phrases reminding us of the various episodes from the book of Exodus. Audrey Assad's ethereal piano-based backing gorgeously brings out these Biblical gems. You can also trust Jars of Clay for stripping "Land of My Sojourn" to its bare essence. In this ode that decries the decadence of our nation, you can't help but applaud Mullins and Beaker for the depth of America history interwoven into the song without ever making it sound cluttered. Way before Hillsong Worship thought of setting the Apostle's Creed to music in their recently released "This is What We Believe (The Creed)," Mullins has already done it in "The Creed," here performed by Derek Webb.
The second observation about this soundtrack is that many of the artists are still able to add their creative sparks to their selections without overtly distorting Mullins' original. Thus, it's a delight to hear Sidewalk Prophets abandoning their bass heavy rock for a softer rock take of "If I Stand." Leigh Nash and Jill Phillips, two ladies long overdue in terms of new albums, are a blessing to the ear with their heartfelt takes of "Ready for the Storm" and "Cry the Name." Two of Mullins' formerly unreleased works have been released by from the vaults. "Never Heard the Music" features just a piano backing Mullins. Though the piano is far too overbearing and Mullins voice sounds like he's singing in a basement, "Never Heard the Music" is a simple worship song that speaks of Mullins joy in knowing Jesus. Likewise "Now" suffers from its demo-quality with patches of uneven volume controls. Yet, the song is quite haunting when Mullins sing about "putting flowers on a dead man's grave."