In late 1997, Rich Mullins sat down in an old abandoned church and recorded nine demos on a tape recorder, backed only by piano or guitar. Though rough, Mullins' simple arrangements bring a sense of loss and hope to these "Ten Songs About Jesus."
The first track, "Hard to Get," is the perfect album opener. Rich's pensive vocals, followed by a single acoustic guitar, sing of loneliness and separation from God. He follows it up with "All the Way to Kingdom Come," "My Deliverer," and "Surely God is With Us," all good songs that were clearly meant for a full band.
Moving to piano, "Jesus..." becomes the demo's high point, a haunting melody about Jesus' struggles compared with our own. Rich follows up with "You Did Not Have a Home," another upbeat track. Though less impressive, "Heaven in His Eyes" and "Nothing is Beyond You" creatively examine Jesus' humanity and deity, using text from the Gospels and Psalms. The demo closes with "That Where I Am, There You." Here Rich sings about his assurance that he will one day be with Jesus in Heaven.
Sadly, Mullins died in a car accident on September 19, 1997, leaving this project unfinished. His Ragamuffin band salvaged his demo tracks, and entered the studio themselves to record the final version of "Ten Songs About Jesus."
Calling it The Jesus Record, the album opens with Ragamuffin Rick Elias singing "My Deliverer." The song soars musically, and feels epic in its portrayal of Jesus' destiny as Savior. Again followed by "Surely God is With Us," Ragamuffin Mark Robertson examines Jesus from a skeptic's perspective. Amy Grant sings "Nothing is Beyond You," which actually works better with her voice behind it. Anyone familiar with "Screen Door" might find resemblances with the Ragamuffins' version of "You Did Not Have a Home," which features vocals by Elias, Robertson, and Jimmy Abegg.
Coming again to "Jesus," the Ragamuffins turn the track into a symphonic anthem, backed by a small orchestra. Ashley Cleveland sings, her vocals carrying the haunting quality of Mullins original recording. "All the Way to Kingdom Come" is next, with Phil Keaggy singing alongside Robertson, Abegg, and Elias. The Rick Elias penned "Man of No Reputation" follows; Elias sings about Jesus as an Everyman, and the tune is indeed a heart-wrenching one.
Michael W. Smith sings the first of his outings on the record, "Heaven in His Eyes." The words describe the beauty of looking into Jesus' eyes, and how His death was the only way to ensure everyone would be able to see them. Smitty's version greatly improves on the demo, adding depth emotionally and musically.
"Hard to Get" opens with strings and recorder. The song feels church-like, but invokes images of hills and green valleys. Elias sings of loss and pain, crying out to Jesus, "Do You remember?" the implication being that Jesus has it easy in Heaven while those He's saved struggle here on earth. The song captures the sense of aching loneliness we feel sometimes, when it feels that even Jesus has gone. Yet at the end, the singer accepts that he's "only lashing out at the One who loves me most" and that maybe it was just how Jesus is, "plain hard to get."
"That Where I Am, There You." begins with Rich Mullins' original demo, with additional instruments being added until the demo is dropped out of the mix and Michael W. Smith enters, backed by a choir. The song comes to its upbeat conclusion and all goes quiet, broken by the sound of Mullins playing a dulcimer version of "Nothing but the Blood."
As Mullins' swan song, The Jesus Record probably appeals more to fans than the casual listener. It feels more nuanced than some of his other recordings, much more personal. Still, it remains a wonderful reminder of the beauty of Jesus - just as Mullins intended.JFH Reader Review: Review date: 11/25/09, written by Sean Cunningham for Jesusfreakhideout.com
Disc One, The Jesus Demo
Disc Two, The Jesus Record
Guest Musicians/Artists: Jimmy A, John Bradbury, Jim Chaffee, Ashley Cleveland, Ben Cruft, Paul Cullington, Eric Darken, Philip Dukes, Linda Elias, Rick Elias, Wilfred Gibson, Amy Grant, Kenny Greenberg, Bill Hawkes, Rebecca Hirsch, Tom Howard, Phil Keaggy, Paul Kegg, Pat Kierman, Boguslaw Kostecki, Tim Lauer, Chris Lauerence, Sam Levine, Frank Lloyd, Phil Madiera, Perry Mason, Jim McLeod, Jerry McPherson, Mitch McVicker, John Pigneguy, Tony Pleeth, George Robertson, Mark Robertson, Frank Schaefer, Aaron Smith, Michael W. Smith, Mike Thompson, Cathy Wilkinson, John Williams, Rolf Wilson, Gavyn Wright, Stuart Young, Jim Younkman
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