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96. If You Can’t Shout Saved, You’ll Have to Face the Penalty – Ishmael United


Ishmael United

The Reverence Ian Smale to the stage name Ishmael when he began his music ministry in the early 70’s. Initially he was one half of the acoustic folk/rock duo Ishmael and Andy with Andy Piercy of After the Fire fame. After two albums together the two went their different ways though remaining friends and songwriting partners.

Piercy would join the progressive rock After the Fire and help morph into a 1980’s new wave rock band, most known for their smash hit Der Kommissar. Smale would produce an album called “Charge of the Light Brigade” under the name Ishmael. the album was much more rock than the Ishmael and Andy projects and would serve as a precursor to Ishmael United.

In 1979 Ishmael would put together a band called Ishmael United and would produce not only the best work of his career, but one of the most important, influential and original albums in CCM history. Punk, ska, rock and soul and combine to create something utterly unique and powerful.

The album starts with a phone ringing and an operator directing a call to “Ishmael United.” This immediately kicks into “Song of the Last Generation,” a punk song with a great sense of pop. It possesses a touch of Andy McCarroll  with lyrics pointing out how, in the mind of the writer, the world doesn’t seem to notice that this is the world’s last generation. A Noahic call for repentance is lamented as the world appears to be heading to hell in a handbasket and “nobody cares.”

“Star on Sunday” starts with a staccato synthesizer for the first verse before a rock drum beat and ska styled guitar are slowly added. The song, driven by Smales strained and faulty vocals, takes a look at Christian artists that have outgrown their humble beginnings and have lost sight of their initial ministry desires. the lure of money and fame tears down the subject to the point where he believes “they don’t want Jesus, they just want me.”

One of Smales’ great traditions, even to this day, is to make musical expressions detailing popular Bible stories and ideas. His later children’s products would bear this out. “Bartimaeus” tells the story of the blind man healed by Jesus. The story is passionately performed by Smale here as, again, his struggling vocals give the listener a peak at the pain and desire of the man craving to be healed. The incredible sax work here drives the song.

The title track is the most second ska sounding of the entire album. Bass and keyboard driven and utterly unforgettable. Smale uses the metaphor of a soccer (uh, futbol) match to express the idea of how works cannot save anyone. The songs remains on the edge of being corny, but is saved by Smales’ full commitment to the musical expression and ends up being more “fun” than silly. The albums closer is a different story.

“Jesus Trip” is a ska punk song that I so wish a band like Five iron Frenzy would have covered. Fun, energetic and irrepressibly singable.

“Don’t Rock De Boat” returns to a more second eave, world music/ska sound with a call and response type chorus. One must wonder if this song was Randy Stonehill’s inspiration for “Shut De Do,” or even Steve Taylor’s “Lifeboat.” In the hands of any other artist this song (as well as a few others) could have been a crash and burn, but they simply find a way to work beautifully.

One of the real highlights of the album is “Crowd Trouble,” which also served as a limited edition 12 inch vinyl single. Again the metaphor of a soccer match is used as the sport is known for it’s unruly crowds. But here we discover the crowd in question are actually those attending the trial of Jesus with Pilate. The “rowdies” provoke the crowd to shout “crucify.”

“Christian Schizophrenic” continues the musical expression of borderline children’s sound. The lyrics deal with hypocrisy and two-faced Christianity. But near the end the song changes direction into a nearly Daniel Amos type fun punk rock song with a driving piano leading the way.

The 50’s malt shop influenced “Now It’s All Gone Wrong,” is just fun and has a great backing vocal driven chorus. “Coraline Robinson” is the most unique song on the album with it’s piano and drum accompanied ballad form. The story of a woman at the end of her rope serves as a backdrop to present the Gospel message to those in need. This may have worked real well on radio at the time if not for the references to sex, drugs and suicide. I love the backing vocals as the song closes.

“Jesus is Making a Comeback” is a great album closer. OK, it doesn’t actually close the album but the final song is still too much of a children’s song for me to include as part of the record. In fact, if this was released during the time of the CD the album closer would be a hidden track! But here the fun, energetic and zany Smale takes center stage and the only problem is the song should have lasted another two minutes!

Ah, “the Glories.” How do you deal with this song in a serious review. It is a clearly a children’s song that would later be heard on one of the countless children’s album that Smale spent the next three decades recording. A precursor to Psalty, the song tells the story of the “Glories” who live in “Charismatic Woods” and are always cheerful and obviously love God (their constant refrains of Al al le luia prove this). They were opposed by the “Miseries” (I’m guessing Methodists or Anglicans) who tried to sew up their lips but failed.

It’s silly and really doesn’t belong, but, much to my dismay is mentioned by many friends as own of their favorite songs from the album. Oh, well, the 11 songs are fantastic!

The album made its way to the US through Star Song. At the time Star song was one of the few labels willing to take risks (especially when their was limited financial responsibility) as it was at this time that they also released Bill Mason and Resurrection Band.

In 2008 Smale was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia,  but has been cancer free for a year or so now. He has maintained a ministry directed at children with several albums and books for kids. he has also worked with the children’s products released by Kingsway Music in England.


  1. April 6, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Loved this record – was working at Star Song when it first came through …

  2. Don
    April 8, 2011 at 4:12 am

    Now that is a compliment! If JDB loves it, I better take another listen.

  3. Ecron Muss
    January 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Hmmm, surprisingly high on the list… was the song “Marmite Sandwiches” on the US version of the album?

    If not, you missed the most insightful, fun and listenable song!

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