He really did it. For years, Rich Mullins has been threatening to earn his B.A. in Music Education and teach on the Navajo Reservation. This May, adorned in cap and gown, Rich took his degree from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, and the very next day moved lock, stock, and Bible to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Which begs the question: how could a man with a thriving music career, eight #1 radio singles and a #1 album under his belt, chuck it all for life in the rust-red canyons and mesas of the southwest? Answer: he isn't. As his new Reunion album, BROTHER'S KEEPER, amply shows, Rich is at the top of his game, and rather than curtailing his dual life, he plans to expand it.
In fact, this fall, Rich will kick off one of his biggest concert extravaganzas yet, the "Brother's Keeper Tour,-- which also features Ashley Cleveland and Carolyn Arends. Sponsored by the International Bible Society, which has pioneered a new missionary outreach to Native Americans, the tour takes Rich to 65 cities in less than three months. It may seem an exhausting itinerary, but when an artist has something important to say, somehow he finds the energy. And with his new album, Rich Mullins speaks volumes. A testament of faith and forgiveness, BROTHER'S KEEPER surely ranks among his best.
Coming on the heels of 1993's A LITURGY, A LEGACY, & A RAGAMUFFIN BAND, the new album is a bit of a departure. "We deliberately decided not to write with a common thread,-- says Rich. "We said, 'Let's just kick back, say what's on our minds, and not worry about being philosophers or commentators."
Rich wrote or co-wrote all ten tracks, most with his long-time friend Beaker, and co-produced the album with his bandmates: guitarist/bassist Jimmy Abegg, guitarist Rick Elias, drummer/guitarist Phil Madeira, keyboardist/percussionist Lee Lundgren, and drummer Aaron Smith. Sharing the producer spotlight with his colleagues was an easy call for Rich. "So many musical ideas on this album originated with each of the guys in the band,-- he says. "And I've always believed in the 'No man is an island' point of view. So it just seemed right to name them as co-producers."
The album kicks off with the title track, a lilting up tempo ballad about love and acceptance. That segues to "Let Mercy Lead," a song addressed to Beaker's newborn son. Nothing we were attempting was good enough for his kid," laughs Rich. "Finally, we came up with this." The song's intriguing reference to the "foolishness of God" comes from the writings of G.K. Chesterton. "When we see the way God loves us, it doesn't make sense, especially to victims of the Enlightenment" notes Rich. "But God goes beyond reason."
"Hatching of a Heart" is a phrase borrowed from the late Catholic theologian Thomas Merton. Says Rich, "I try to allow myself to encounter God in the everyday things: making the bed, building a shelf, learning to play the viola. There is glory even in the mundane, but we always seem to think it has to do with mountains."
The next track, "Promenade," is a Cajun-flavored fable of the revival on the hill, while "Wounds of Love" is a passionate and deeply personal musical love letter.
"'Damascus Road' was written the night my fiancée broke off our engagement" says Rich. "I knew I was going to become depressed, so I figured, before that, I'd make an honest effort to say, 'Blessed is the name of the Lord.'"
With its haunting intro and spirited verses, the psalm-like "Cry The Name" draws on Rich's connection with Native American culture and his own Celtic heritage while evoking a sense of oneness with the natural world. Written in Ireland, "The Breaks" is according to Rich, "an uncomfortable love song," while the albums closer, "Quoting Deuteronomy to the Devil" is a rousing Delta blues number particularly close to Rich's heart. "I don't trust snake handlers or preachers that scream at me," he says, "but I admit there's something intriguing about it. It was a total blast to write and record this track."
For someone who describes himself as "a born dissenter," Rich Mullins seems to have a lot of fun making music and sharing the Gospel. Born in rural Indiana and raised on a farm, Rich Mullins was one of those kids who always loved going to church. "I was attracted to the music as well as the message," he says. "Eventually I joined the choir, which toured all across the Midwest." Rich fused his twin loves of music and Christ, deciding early on to seek a career as a Contemporary Christian artist, He made his recording debut with his 1986 self-titled Reunion album, followed by seven lavishly praised albums, including Pictures in the Sky (1987), Winds of Heaven ... Stuff of Earth (1988), NEVER PICTURE PERFECT (1989), The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 1 (1991), the #1 smash The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 2 (1992) and A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band (1994).
Among his #1 hits on CCM radio charts are "Verge of A Miracle," the enormously popular "Awesome God" (voted one of the most popular Contemporary Christian songs of the decade), "My One Thing," "While the Nations Rage," "Boy Like Me, Man Like You," "Sometimes By Step," "Creed," and "Hold Me Jesus." He has scored nearly a dozen Gospel Music Association Dove Award nominations, and was the writer of Amy Grant's hits "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," "Doubly Good to You," and "Love of Another Kind." Rich has toured all around the world before an estimated half-million fans. His 1994 long-form video release, pursuit of a legacy," included four original concept videos as well as Rich's wry reflections on his life, his faith, and his music.
But these days, Rich is not looking back. His new album and upcoming tour have him excited as never before. "I'm a big fan of Ashley Cleveland and Carolyn Arends," he says, "and it's a thrill to be going out with them."
Beyond his immediate music career goals, Rich is equally looking forward to life on the reservation. "The image of the shepherd is important in Christianity," he notes, "and for me to live among a shepherding culture may increase my understanding of Christ, who is my shepherd. As a teacher, I hope I can give these kids an opportunity to win. Kids naturally want to be productive, and music gives them something to be good at."
Motivated both by his love of people and his love of God, Rich has influenced countless lives with his examples of humor, compassion, joy and humility. If anyone seeks a living, breathing model of what it means to be a brother's keeper, the search can end with Rich Mullins.
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