Rich Mullins "A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band"
by Chris Well
CCM Magazine November 1993
Much like the Big God who visited us as a tiny baby, Rich Mullins isn't someone you should take one glance at and decide you've seen it all.
Take for instance, his latest, A Litrugy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band. The band Mullins has assembled is alone worth a look: Rick Elias, Jimmy Abegg, Danny O'Lannerty, Chris McHugh, Lee Lundgren, Eric Darken, Billy Crockett and long-time Mullins' collaborator Beaker. Here's a group of guys who, to varying degrees, really deserve larger recognition than they sometimes get on other projects. That Mullins saw their talents and recruited them for his Ragamuffin Band is an immense artistic achievement in and of itself.
The opening words of the album - Elias announcing to the band that he may not be entirely ready - certainly sets the stage for something a little different than "Christian music as usual."
For starters, the album title isn't some cute little designation so you can go out and buy the record - the structure of the album follows the two main ideas through. Roughly, Mullins is using the term "liturgy" to mean the technical and intellectual elements of our worship, the high church stuff, and "legacy" as the more emotional elements, passed to us through tradition and family. Further, the band is termed "ragamuffin" to refer to Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel, showing us all as sinners in need of grace. This idea is then woven into the whole project, connecting the other two elements together.
Musically, it's an appealing package to thos who realize that "adult contemporary" doesn't have to mean Sandi Patti or even Michael Bolton; the mix of hammer dulcimer and Irish pop would sound nice in any mix that included, say, Enya or, in Christian music, Iona or Jan Krist. It's literate and compelling music.
But totally and completely worth the whole price of admission, is the rockin' cover of Mark Heard's Ideola track, "How to Grow Up Big and Strong." Thematically following the delicate Christmas song "You Gotta Get Up," which Mullins writes from a child's perspective, the band then lays hard into the downside of losing childlike faith - and, in so doing, losing everything.
Rich Mullins seems at times to be an artist who is always dissatisfied, always itchy to find new and different ways to explore his faith through art. His discoveries are sometimes disturbing, sometimes simple, sometimes shocking - but always worth chewing on. And while they aren't as ragged and world-weart as say, those of Rick Elias - there are moments of Mullins' Ragamuffin Band that also make me say, "hey, I've felt that, too." Which means that a rarity of rarities has happened - an album of unequivocally obvious church music has made me stop and rethink my faith. And I'm the better for it.