Rich Mullins (Pre Owned CD) The World As Best As I Remember It. Vol. 1 1991 Reunion Records

  • Pre-Owned CD
  • 1991 Reunion Records

I didn't get into Rich Mullins' music until after his untimely death in 1997, and one big reason was because one of the few discs I did have was The World As Best As I Remember It, Vol. 1. There are plenty of good songs on here. In fact, some people consider this one of his best. I'm not one of them. While I enjoy most of the songs, a few just leave me scratching my head.

The disc starts with bagpipes and a boy soprano. Yes, you've come to the right place. It's the simple chorus "Step by Step." This song has become a staple of church worship over the last two decades (yes, it was released in 1991.) But listening to it here is something else. While Rich comes in after the first time through and they add piano to the mix, I can never help but really focus on the simple lyrics when I listen to this version of the song.

I would say the biggest theme of the disc is applying Bible stories to our lives today. Four of the 10 tracks are along those lines (and you could argue for a fifth). "Boy Like Me/Man Like You" looks at Jesus' boyhood in an everyday way. It's got lyrics like
Did You wrestle with a dog and lick his nose?
Did You play beneath the spray of a water hose?
Did You ever make angels in the winter snow?
Okay, so some of those things couldn't have really happened. (Did they even have garden hoses back then?) But thinking about Christ's childhood being like mine is fun. And the last line always gets me. "And I really may just grow up to be like You someday." Plus this song is just plain fun with guitar, recorder, and a funky rhythm.

Actually, the fun rhythms are a staple of this disc. Take the next track. "Where You Are" is just shy of a Jamaican rhythm as Rich reminds us that "You'll meet the Lord in the furnace long before you meet Him in the sky." And Christian music fans from the 90's might be surprised to learn that one of the back up singers is Susan Ashton who had a solo debut this year as well. (I only know this because of the notes that came with the disc. You can't recognize her voice.)

Rich liked to play the lap dulcimer, and you get a book dose of it on "Who God is Gonna Use" since it's the main instrument. Again, we're looking at Bible stories to remind us that God can use anyone. After all, he used Balaam's donkey, an Egyptian princess, and Esther.

But then there's the quasi title track. "Jacob and 2 Women (The World as Best as I Can Remember It)" confuses me to this day. Some of the lyrics are definitely about the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah from the book of Genesis. However, about half of each book seems completely outside of that story. It's almost like he is paralleling the Biblical story with a modern story. And I don't get the tag on each verse, "And this is the world as best as I can remember it." But here's the thing. The song is a very pretty piano and mandolin ballad. I love to listen to it and sing along. I just wish I knew better what I was singing about.

That song isn't alone in being a bit too poetic for simple minded me. "The Howling" is guitar driven song about the Westward expansion of America. At least that's what I assume with pictures of "Iron horses tracks pressed in the mud from the weight of all that steam and steel" and even some images of the Native Americans being forced to move west ahead of the settlers. The images are great, and I guess it shows how men can treat other men poorly. But again, I feel like I'm missing something.

The biggest mystery is "The River." It's a lovely piano and strings ballad, perhaps a bit too slow since the melody seems to get lost a times. I think Rich is singing through the pain of a broken heart, but that's a complete guess. Even 20 years later, I don't know for sure what the verses are about. The chorus seems to be a cry to God to help him reach the other side of the river he's found himself in.

But there are still come classics here. "Calling Out Your Name" shows off Rich's skill with the hammer dulcimer with a nice long intro that helps set the tone for this celebration of the beauty of the landscape in America as it leads Rich to praise the creator:
Well the moon moved past Nebraska and
Spilled laughter on them cold Dakota Hills
It tells me the Lord is in His temple and there is
Still a faith that can make the mountains move
I feel the thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And with the prairies I am calling out Your name.

A similar theme runs through "I See You." This song was written with concerts in mind. After Rich sings a line, a choir repeats it. I can almost picture the audience of a concert getting into the song as well. After a string intro, you get some fun bass, drums, and guitar that really drive this song. And as it fades out, you get the perfect lead in into the reprise of "Step by Step."

So there are three songs that remain a mystery to me 20 years later (although I still love one of them). The rest of The World As Best As I Remember It, Vol. 1 is good. I may not list this as one of Rich's best, but I am glad I have it now.

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