Mullins brings encouraging songs, Ragamuffin Band


Daily Beacon Staff Writer

Relaxing to the ear yet stimulating to the heart and mind. That's the best way I can describe the music that will be played tomorrow night in the Knoxville Civic Center. Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffin Band are coming to town with Ashley Cleveland and Carolyn Arends as opening acts.

Carolyn Arends' debut album, I Can Hear You is a study of finding God in the minute details of life. Arends, who majored in psychology and minored in English and music, provides intriguing lyrics that are openly honest and personal. One of her songs, "Seize The Day" follows the carpe diem philosophy that we've all studied in high school English. Arends takes it one step further and tells her listeners to make the most of God's blessings. Arends combines an acoustic sound that includes guitar, fiddle, accordion, dulcimer and mandolin then sets it to a pop-rhythm section. Arends voice, which resembles the style of Suzanne Vega, is the perfect accompaniment to the sound.

Ashley Cleveland has a voice that can't be described with just one adjective, suffice it to say that once you've heard it you won't forget it.

Cleveland, who has performed with Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris and Patty Smythe, has a passion for music that is surpassed only by the love for her family. The mother of three, Cleveland has said that the objective for her album Lesson of Love was to have fun and to make a record that she would enjoy listening to.

The honesty that comes out of her songs, coupled with the strength and passion of her voice has a way of capturing your attention and ear. You can't stop listening until she's stopped singing.

Rich Mullins has recorded seven albums, toured all around the world, and been nominated for ten Gospel Dove Awards. Mullins is no newcomer and business is booming. So what does he do next? He goes back to school and earns his bachelor's degree in music education. Then he packs up all his stuff and moves to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico to teach music to children. Sound like the typical artist? But Mullins has never been typical. Every lyric and every title has a deeper meaning, including the name of his band, Ragamuffin.

Inspired by Brennan Manning's book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Mullins got together some guys that knew who they were and whose identities came through their playing. They were honest about their shortcomings and open with Mullins. They're a perfect fit for the description Manning gives in his book, "smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags."

The sound of the album shifts smoothly from song to song. The main influence is a folk sound that lends itself easily to the earthy foot-stompin' tempos of songs such as "Quoting Deuteronomy to the Devil."

The title track, "Brother's Keeper," is a twist from the stereotypes most people apply to Christians. Mullins sings of prayer and encouragement for those people that struggle with problems and sin, not the typical judgment that so many of us experience:

"Now this roof has got a few missing shingles/But at least we got ourselves a roof/ And they say that she's a fallen angel/ I wonder if she recalls when she last flew/ There's no point in pointing fingers/ unless you're pointing to the truth."

Mullins didn't set out to be a philosopher on this album, and what came about was a collection of sweet and profound songs. Some were inspired by babies, some by pain and loss, but all are about life. And that's a common thread we all share.