Normally I use this column as an opportunity to talk about who's doing what in Christian music, both locally and nationally, and as a way to catch up on all the latest industry news, but this month I want to do something a little different. At the end of this month, on June 30, a project will be released that may possibly be one of the most important releases in CCM in quite some time. That project, The Jesus Record, is a tribute to Rich Mullins by those who knew him best and worked with him most closely.
The repercussions of Rich's death on the world of Christian music are still being felt, and the hole left by his death shows no sign of closing. Not since Keith Green's untimely death in 1984 has there been such a sense of loss in the Christian music industry. Yet while Keith had many recordings that were able to be released after his death, the same could not be said for Rich. He had been gradually phasing himself out of the CCM scene to focus more and more on his mission work with Native Americans, and many in the industry felt that while there would be tributes and memorials, there would never be another Rich Mullins album. However, those who believed this failed to take into account the wonderful people with whom Rich worked.
In the fall of 1997, Rich had been working on an album that would specifically focus on the character and life of Jesus. He had recorded rough versions of eight songs he had prepared for the album on a cheap cassette player. Very soon after that was the car accident that took his life. Those who had been working with him on the album, namely Rick Elias, Mark Robertson, Jimmy Abegg, Aaron Smith (all part of the Ragamuffin Band featured on Rich's album A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band) decided that his songs could not be just forgotten. They took the rough mixes he had laid down and worked with them to create The Jesus Album.
Besides the songs that Mullins intended for The Jesus Album on one CD, there is another CD included in the project that contains Mullins' songs performed by members of the Ragamuffin Band and several guest vocalists. The guests on this project read like a veritable Who's Who of Christian Music: Ashley Cleveland, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and Phil Keaggy are just some of the names that pop up on this project. According to information available on the Rich Mullins website (http://www2.southwind.net/~scatcat/rmml/rmml204.html), the double-album set also contains a live recording of Mullins performing the gospel standard "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus."
While there have been tribute albums galore in the world of CCM, most of them have been saccharine rehashes that weren't exactly worthy of notice. But not only is this a tribute to a man who literally changed the face and attitude of Christian music, this tribute is done by his friends in full keeping with his musical tastes and in the spirit of Mullins himself. In fact, Rich originally wished to include songs on the new album written and performed by the Ragamuffins, so this is an extension of Rich's wishes.
It's hard for me at times to continually write positively about the Christian music industry, and I have often been an outspoken critic of many things in the industry that I think are hackneyed, poor imitations of the originals or just plain wrong. The truth is, when Christian music is done right, in the spirit of its creator, there is no music on earth that moves me more or has had more impact on who I am today. That's why this tribute is so important. Rich was one of the rare few in the CCM industry who consistently, artistically and beautifully got it right. The Jesus Album is a reminder of all he gave us in the short time he was here, and hearing his voice again is like hearing the voice of an old and dear friend.
When this project is released at the end of the month, call your local bookstores and reserve a copy for yourself. Buy it not just for what promises to be an excellent collection of songs, but because it is a celebration of one of CCM's heroes. Buy it to help support the ministries Rich worked so hard to support in his lifetime. Most of all, buy it because it is the farewell of one of CCM's most honest and most reluctant saints.