34. Sail on Sailor – Mustard Seed Faith
SAIL ON SAILOR (1975)
Mustard Seed Faith
Not only does this classic Jesus Music album possess the greatest album cover of all time, it is also one of the most influential, powerful, compelling and lasting albums of the Jesus Music era. The recorded career of the band was actually quite short-lived, and, in fact, this amazing record almost never happened.
According to songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Oden Fong, recording album was not only an “afterthought” it was a never-thought. The band was really a group of musician-missionaries, brought together for the purpose of sharing the Gospel in places other would not or could not go. Many members also came from other bands (Love Song, Down Home) and were ministers first, musicians second.
But the bands faithfulness paid off as Maranatha Music’s head of ministry, Mike MacIntosh, was about to leave to start a Church. His last executive decision was to bless the band with a record contract and a recording schedule. Love Song’s Tommy Coomes was asked to produce and a young up-and-comer engineer, Jonathan David Brown, was hired to mix the album.
The album was record in the home of engineer Buddy King with a 16 track board with limited electronic enhancements and vocals that were recorded in bathrooms. The budget was well south of $20K and it was the bands goal to pay the guests twice as much as they would expect as a blessing for supporting the band.I have spoken with several people involved and I have yet to hear anyone complain about the process. In fact, many recall it as the best times of their lives.
The album was originally going to be called “The Lighter Side of darkness.” Calvary Chapel pastor Chuck Smith nixed the title and recommended they not use the word “darkness” to convey their message. They already had the album cover (by world renowned artist Rick Griffin) concept completed and band member Lewis McVay (reviewed earlier) had written the song “Sail on Sailor” in response to a beach Boys song of the same name. The title not only worked with the artwork, the title song became the most popular song from the album and one of the great classic is Jesus Music lore.
Describing the band and the album is not quite so easy. Combining folk, jazz, progressive rock, California beach music and worship music, the band created a completely original and infectious sound. Of all of the early Calvary Chapel bands, Mustard Seed Faith was the most authentically rock. They were much more progressive than Love Song and did not play the common “country-rock” that was the most popular style of the day. They were also clearly multi-cultural before that was even a term.
The album would contain several songs that became youth group sing-a-long favorites. This important fact helped expand the bands ministry and popularity at a time when radio and media were all but non-existent.
The album starts with the progressive and atmospheric, “The Question.” An acoustic sounding Pink Floyd with flute and synthesizer supporting Fong’s other-worldly and lilting vocals. the style is not too far removed from what Kemper Crabb would employ some 5 years later.
“Let Go” is the only song that really gravitates toward the more country-infused music most of the Calvary Chapel bands were known for. Influenced by good friend Bill Sprouse Jr. the song is both infectious and fun, but one never gets the idea that was ever the ultimate musical direction of the band. Like many songs of the era, it is a call to a simple faith where one allows God to guide and direct ones life.
The albums returns to the more thoughtful rock that would define the band with “Can’t Work Your Way to Heaven.” There is more than a little bit of the Beatle’s “Let It Be” in the verses and “Hey Jude” in the chorus.
“Once I Had a Dream” is influenced by the psychedelic folk of the late 60’s and sounds like the early Maranatha Praise album songs with tight vocal harmonies and sweet melodies on top of a more intricate musical arrangement than first expected. Bob Cull’s strings are spot on here.
The more traditional folk stylings of “Dried Up Well” bring favorable comparisons to Peter, Paul and Mary until the superior musical interlude and wonderful acoustic piano work. With that in mind it is important to point out that though some member like Oden Fong and Lewis McVay continued into the CCM era and are the most recognizable names from the band, the piano and flute work of Pedro Buford cannot be ignored. I attended countless “Saturday Night Concerts” at Calvary with Pastor Pedro leading worship before i ever realized he was the same guy who contributed to this amazing album.
The classic title track follows. Not much more can be said about this great song that hasn’t been said here and elsewhere. As stated above the song was a response to the Beach Boys (from their “Holland” album). The original song of doubt is answered by McVay with a wonderful, triumphant song of faith with such a memorable message and melody. I have never made “over-spiritualized” comments in these reviews, but I firmly believe this song is truly inspired in the Biblical sense of the word. Stylistically borrowing from the eagles and the Beach Boys the song still sounds great, if not “fresh” in todays electronic-obsessed world.
The original title track, “The Lighter Side of Darkness” follows. This much more progressive rock song combines mid-70’s art rock with 60’s acid rock. I once read a review that said it was like jethro Tull meets the Doors. I liked that! Buford’s piano work steals the show here.
Another real Jesus Music classic is found here with “Sweet Jesus Morning.” The song quickly became a favorite among youth groups and helped make the band a :must see” Christian band for the time. A tough of ELP here with great and tight harmonies and a worshipful chorus. This time it is Buford’s flute work that adds the extra touch.
A jazzy “More Than Sunlight” features Daniel Gardner’s impressive trumpet work. Another borderline classic song, the song would actually find life again in Southern California as it became a regular recurrent song on a new radio station called KYMS.
The album closes with “Back Home.” The theme of the sailor lost in the dark clouds of a storm is brought full circle here as the listener discovers the road back home to God. One can here the very real possibility of Terry Taylor being influenced by this album. The heavy orchestration combined with Bealtesque art rock would find itself both on Shotgun Angel and Horrendous Disc.
This is about as perfect as a Jesus Music album ever recorded. From the artwork to the the final note one would be hard pressed to find much fault with the project. It’s lasting impression left an indelible mark on an entire generation of Christian Music fans who would most obviously rank it among the Top 5 ost important and quality albums of it’s genre. Only one other Calvary album ranks higher.
It is even all the more amazing when one considers that it is an album that almost never was!