Most people familiar with Christian music know the story of Rich Mullins and the tragic accident that claimed his life. (If you don't know the story, see the article at the main page.) Mitch Mcvicker was riding with Rich in the Jeep that overturned. They were on their way to a concert, and had been working on Mitch's first record. Rich was producing the album and adding some vocal touches, but the album was going to be all originals featuring Mitch's excellent vocals and confident guitar playing.
This is that album, released in 1998 (and now re-issued by Rhythm House Records) while Mitch was still recovering from the accident (he suffered a severe head injury and broken bones). Unfortunately, this album was probably overshadowed by The Jesus Record, a post-humus release featuring original home recordings by Mullins on one disc and several CCM stars performing the same songs on the second disc.
As you may know, "My Deliverer" became the song of 1998, with Rick Elias on vocals. While the Jesus Record was very clearly a loving tribute to a lost friend, the McVicker record barely mentions Mullins' death, except for one quick thanks to those who helped Mitch through his ordeal.
The album is positioned as it should be: the debut from a promising young songwriter. Yet, as far as I can figure out, it has been all but overlooked in the aftermath of the accident. That's a real shame, because I believe that Mcvicker is an extremely gifted songwriter and vocalist. The album itself does not necessarily support that claim on every song, but we'll talk about that in a moment.
First, let's take a look at three aspects of the abum: the lyrics, the music, and the vocals.
Lyrically, the thoughts and insights into Christian living are on the right track, but sometimes the words sound like they were pulled from other Rich Mullin's records and mixed together for hit-or-miss results. Also, there's too much use of cliché: a "great big old world that's changing" on "Gospel Rain" sounds like something we've already heard before. I call this the Michael W. Smith syndrome, where instead of doing the hard work of coming up with a new way of saying something, the writer just relies on worn out and tired phrases. In fact, Smith himself used that "change my world" concept already.
It's important to note that Rich Mullins was not a strong lyricist on his debut record either (remember, he wrote "Sign your Praise to the Lord" with lines like "come on everybody" repeated ad infinitum).So just wait, Mitch will get there.
The music here is one of the album's greatest strengths. Mitch is a gifted guitar player, able to play rhythm easily when needed and also switch to more of a picking style. Also,his casual harmonica style adds a grassroots,folky feel to an obviously CCM-oriented record. Mullins helped out on piano on several songs, along with Kenny Greenburg on electric guitar.
The best song all the way around is "Freedom" with all the usual Rich Mullins fixins including hammered dulcimer.
It's not a criticism to say that Mitch sounds almost exactly like Rich Mullins. That's a good thing, and every song sounds pleasant and easy-going - without any vocal stretches or slips out of tune. Another tuneful acoustic track, "The Lemonade Song," reminded me of Chris Rice, who has one of the best voices in the industry.
Debut albums fall into one of several categoies. Sometimes, as with Polarboy and the newly renamed band Wide Awake, the debut is immediately likeable. Other times, a debut can be a first and last from an artist who didn't really have what it took to make it. Some artists, and I would include Mitch in this category, will take a while to develop. There are signs of greatness here, and more often than not the songs are interesting and compelling. But look out for that sophomore release,which is sure to please.