A friend once told me, “I hate tribute albums,” and honestly, I get why people feel this way. Yet something compelled the creative team of Old Bear Records, UTR Media, and Andrew Greer to press on for nearly three years of work to release Bellsburg… The Songs of Rich Mullins.
This 18-track album is on the one hand a tribute album, in many ways it’s something all its own. Producer Chris Hoisington was inspired by Rich’s last recording a week before he died—what is now known as The Jesus Record Demos. He wanted to know what would happen if we recorded Rich’s songs in a sparse, raw way—even putting analogue tape into the mix—instead of the full production you get on most tribute albums. What if, he asked, instead of going into a Nashville studio, we recorded these songs in Rich’s old house in Bellsburg, Tennessee?
The dream came true. And nearly every artist we asked to participate in the recording said “yes”, from Rich’s friends and tour mates (e.g. Amy Grant, Mitch McVicker, Ashley Cleveland, Carolyn Arends, etc), to Rich’s family members (e.g. brother David Mullins, nephew Jonathan Mullins), to the next generation of artists influenced deeply by Rich’s life and music (e.g. Andrew Peterson, Jason Gray, Sara Groves, etc).
The essence of the album is community. You hear some banter before and after some of the songs, there with intentionality. You can tell that these were not songs recorded in isolation, but the tone and beauty of the album feels like a tapestry woven together. Some of my favorite moments are actually found in the imperfections. It’s the opposite of a studio masterpiece; it feels more like you’re hanging on the front porch with dear friends enjoying songs the speak into our hearts.
Rich frequently told people that he was convinced that his songs would have a short life-cycle, that no one would care about his music in 10 or 15 years. Now, here we are, 25 years after his death, and it seems like some of his songs are just beginning to connect with us in new and fresh ways. With the help of presenting these songs in a more timeless folk/Americana styling, it’s a joy to see his songs carry forward and maybe even resonate in new ways we could have never imagined.
Bellsburg (The Songs of Rich Mullins) is available on all platforms on November 4.