Saturday, May 31, 2014

#84 HONEYTREE by Honeytree (1973)

HONEYTREE by Honeytree (1973)
Myrrh Records (MST-6523-LP)
Back in the early days of the Jesus Movement, the list of female solo artists was a very short one. There was Marj Snyder, Debby Kerner, and Jamie Owens, all from California – the epicenter of this wonderful spiritual awakening that was taking place among the young people of the day. But the largest impact was made by a young hippie chick from “fly-over country” – the great Midwest, far away from Costa Mesa and all of the full-immersion-ocean-water-baptisms-by-the-sea. She went by a name that her counter-culture friends had given her while she was still in high school. She was called Honeytree.
Her given name was Nancy Henigbaum. “Henigbaum was German, and it means ‘honey tree’ if you translate it to English,” explains Nancy. “My friends called me Honeytree when I was in high school, and it was a hippie name (like Moonbeam or Sunrise or something). It stuck with me and it was so much easier than Henigbaum as an artistic name. So when I got saved and I started writing songs for the Lord and we wanted to record and everything, we just decided to keep using it. So it’s been my nickname. It’s not a legal name, but it’s my nickname. And I love it. People can still call me Honeytree if they like!”
We’ve already talked about one Honeytree album on this list (#91 – 1979’S MARANATHA MARATHON). Check out that post if you’d like to catch up on the back story of Nancy’s upbringing and her rebellious period (oh, my!) during high school. Let’s pick the story up in the Spring of 1970.
Honeytree's sister, who was studying at the Fort Wayne Art School in Indiana, invited her to come for a visit over the Easter holiday in 1970. In Fort Wayne, she met several local “Jesus freaks,” a group of hippies who had surrendered their lives to the Lord. They introduced Honeytree to John Lloyd, a Fort Wayne youth minister who operated a now-legendary Christian coffeehouse called the Adam's Apple. Soon thereafter, Nancy became a born-again Christian.

After taking a job as a secretary at the Adam's Apple, Honeytree began attending the group's Monday night Bible study. She also became immersed in the growing Christian folk music scene. "That was like college to me," she explained. "I worked there for five years right out of high school. Couldn't have gotten a better education." Honeytree began to write original Christian songs. When she was called on to lead a group of singers in worship, she sometimes added one of her own songs to the setlist. A minister, impressed with her music, borrowed money so that she could record and press her first album, Honeytree, in 1973.

Honeytree's musical influences were not traditional Christian musicians but mainstream female stars like Carole King, Judy Collins, and Joni Mitchell. There was nothing quite like Nancy’s folk-rock soprano style in the Christian music lexicon back in 1973 – especially from a female solo artist. Word spread quickly about this folk-rock album with unapologetically Christian themes. The album was originally issued on Superior Records, a custom label; it was soon picked up and reissued by the nationally-distributed Myrrh Records label, a division of Word Music. And the rest is history (as they say). 

In fact, this album was chosen for this list based more on the historical significance of the record than the production values. Like most Jesus Music albums of the early 70s, it contained sparse production, short songs, and simple arrangements – very simple. But that’s precisely what gave Honeytree’s self-titled debut much of its charm. People love some albums because of things like sonic excellence or world-class musicianship; they love this album because they love these songs. And they love Nancy Honeytree.

The album’s first song, Only God, is a gentle ballad with an easy flow. Tasteful acoustic piano and electric guitar riffs abound as Honeytree makes a statement of faith right off the bat:

Only God can fill my need
Lord, You always bring me peace

The song seems to end way too soon. That’s true of several of the songs on this record; the entire first side of the album clocks in at under 12 minutes!

Next up was a track that became a popular wedding song for many Jesus people in the early 70s. Treasures has been called “a classic Christian love song.”

What does it mean to you
When you find a friend who is true?
Do you count all your treasures less precious than this?
I know two people who do
When you are blessed, do you share?
Does someone know you care?

What does it mean to you,
The hand that the nail ran through?
Do you hold onto Jesus and trust Him, my friend?
I know two people who do
They do because they have found
He’ll never let them down

What does it mean to you?
They say to each other, “I do”
Do you feel that their promise will live ‘till they die?
I know two people who do
They know that Jesus will stay
Close to them every day

Treasures had an authenticity, an earnest quality that just worked.

Musically, Sweet Rain sounds a bit like a children’s ditty. Lyrically, it’s, um…it’s a little different. The song paints a picture of raindrops from heaven washing children’s faces. It talks about the “grass growing green,” and refers to rain as “waters of renewal fall[ing] from the sky.” It basically says that hatred and sin have caused a spiritual thirst among people that can be quenched by turning their mouths toward heaven and drinking the rain that comes from Jesus. Now, if you tend to be a literalist or if you’re from a more conservative background, I can almost see you rolling your eyes at such "pie-in-the-sky drivel." But, you’ve got to remember, this album’s intended audience was early Jesus people; Honeytree was speaking their language. And the whole song came and went in less than two minutes!

Next up was another favorite from this album, the feel-good country classic titled, Hallelujah Outasight! It’s a really fun testimony song (similar in content to Rattle Me, Shake Me), with some fancy peddle steel pickin'. The feel of the song is reminiscent of Ain’t It Grand To Be a Christian (a sing-along that would come a few years later on the Me & My Old Guitar live album). I hate to keep harping on this…but this one clocks in at under a minute and forty seconds! I mean, was the studio time that expensive? What was the hurry?!

On Job’s Song, Honeytree gives us a small glimpse into the future. Her future albums would contain several songs about people and places in the Bible, and songs that were full of Scripture. It’s been quite obvious that Nancy has a deep respect and reverence for the Word of God, and it comes out in her songs (as you would expect). Musically, Job’s Song is a classic folk tune with a nice electric piano break in the middle of the song. And, of course, it’s less than 2 minutes long.

Kicking off Side Two was a pretty radical departure for Honeytree. Resist the Devil alternated between authentic blues and good time, boogie-woogie rock and roll! Long before 1979’s Righteous Rock and Roll, Resist the Devil showed us that Honeytree could rock when she wanted to. And the blues portions of the song will be quite a surprise to those who’ve only heard Honeytree’s later works. It’s the only song on the album to employ a ‘fade’ ending.

So Much Man is another testimony song:

I’ve got  so much Man in my life
Since Jesus came into my heart

I must confess that I need love and I don’t see no reason for shame
And I declare that I get sweet love when I call out my Savior’s name

This might be nitpicking, but referring to Jesus as a “man,” even with a capital M, is problematic. Especially if it’s basically a love song. Kelly Willard’s A Friend So True comes to mind (I just met a friend who loves me just the way I am / And he seems to understand me / ’Cause He ain’t like no other man). I understand the sentiment and the message behind it. And I guess as long as we’re clear that Jesus was also God and not just “a man,” then it’s all good.

The album closes with a set of songs that were very meaningful and memorable. The first one is a Jesus Music classic called Clean Before My Lord. It’s a song that expresses joy and gratitude for the Lord’s grace and forgiveness…and does so beautifully. Honeytree used a simple, beautiful folk melody to frame this important message:

Why did I wait so long
To learn such a living song
And how could I stay so close
Without seeing Him, never seeing Him

Oh, why do you wait so long
To learn such a living song
And how can you stay so close
Without seeing Him, Never seeing Him

Clean before my Lord I stand
And in me, not one blemish does He see
When I placed all my burdens on Him
He washed them all from me

Clean Before My Lord was heard and enjoyed on a much larger stage, so to speak, when Evie Tornquist covered the song on her 1975 album Evie Again. Of course, Evie’s version was a lush, MOR arrangement that was anything but hip, but it introduced this wonderful song to a whole lot of people who otherwise would not have heard it. The Evie version was also included on the very popular 1975 Jubilation! double album sampler, which gave Evie a little street cred among the Jesus people, while her simply recorded Clean Before My Lord gave Honeytree a little extra credibility as a songwriter. Win-win!

I Don’t Need to Worry was up next on the album. It was another winner, musically and lyrically. Even though Honeytree was young in the Lord, the message contained in I Don’t Need to Worry exhibited a spiritual maturity beyond her years:

I don’t have to worry, trying to prove myself to you
You know before I start what’s sittin’ in my heart
And you can change me, rearrange me into somebody new
And best of all you promised to see me through

I’m believing You
Receiving You, my Lord
My Lord

Why do we try to hurry, getting uptight about the plan
You made the universe without the help of man
And when You say You’ll keep Your promise
We know You cannot lie
So we raise our song of faith up to the sky

I Don’t Need to Worry was given a spot on Love Peace Joya 1974 Myrrh compilation album that served to 
introduce Honeytree and other new artists to a larger audience. In fact, that sampler album was the way I first heard Nancy Honeytree. And it was another Honeytree song that was covered by Evie, this time on her classic 1976 Gentle Moments album (previously reviewed on this list).

The album Honeytree by the artist Honeytree closes with an autobiographical song called Honeytree. It’s another gentle folk ballad with a tune that popped up again on future albums. 

Well, this simple little album was just the beginning of something very precious and very big. God had huge plans for the bashful little hippie chick from Indiana. Realizing that 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Honeytree album, Nancy penned these words in a blog post:

“Oh, thank you, Jesus. More than ever You are my Only God and in You are hidden all the Treasures of life. Your Sweet Rain is still falling on me every day, Hallelujah – (You are) Outasight! Jesus. You restore twice as much though at times we have to sing Job’s Song. Truly we have experienced that when we Resist the Devil he flees from us. Jesus, you have brought So Much Man in my life since you came into my heart. That was the day I became Clean Before My Lord. Now I Don’t Have to Worry because you promised to see your Honeytree through.”

Nancy Honeytree today

Sunday, May 25, 2014

#85 A PORTRAIT OF US ALL by Farrell & Farrell (1979)

A PORTRAIT OF US ALL by Farrell & Farrell (1979)
NewPax (NP33076)
Pop music gave us several interesting husband-wife duos in the 1970s – Sonny & Cher, Michael & Stormie Omartian, Ike & Tina Turner, even the Captain & Tennille.  And while some were more famous, none were more versatile than Bob & Jayne Farrell. The Christian music power couple known as Farrell & Farrell has seemingly lived several lifetimes, musically speaking. They were members of the early Jesus Music bands Millennium and Dove; they were a very popular pop duo in the late 70s/early 80s; they reinvented themselves as a highly successful techno group in the mid to late 80s; and all the while, Bob Farrell was a respected and sought-after songwriter for other artists, both Christian and secular.

Bob and Jayne met as high school students in the Lone Star state. They were in bands together from the early days of their relationship, playing cover tunes for proms and frat parties. They soon married and Bob became a student at the University of Houston. But the marriage got off to a pretty rocky start. “Jayne and I had been married just about a year and a half. We were having problems in our marriage already, and I was ready to bolt,” Bob Farrell told Jerry Bryant in a recent radio interview. “I was in college at the time. This was 1970. There was a traveling ministry that came to town. Jayne went to the crusade and she got born again at First Baptist Houston, downtown. And I left! I left home. I left my baby, my wife, my college. I just split. It was very unlike me. But I was being chased by the Lord, in truth. I came back in three months, not really ready to have anything to do with God, but just to try to make something work. Within a month I was miserable. And then I got born again! I started writing songs, and it’s just continued since then. The phone started ringing, and it never quit ringing.”


Bob & Jayne, pre-Farrell & Farrell

The Farrells relocated to Oklahoma and became part of a music scene that included the likes of Kelly Willard, the Archers, Jonathan David Brown, Sonlight, Andrae & Sandra Crouch and several others. “It was just a wealth of talent,” remembers Bob Farrell. “There was a lot of recording going on!”

Bob later went to Nashville for what he now terms “a totally weird reason,” to audition for a Southern Gospel singer named Doug Oldham. Apparently, it was a divine appointment. Bob ended up meeting Bob MacKenzie, Bill Gaither, and Gary S. Paxton. “They heard six of my songs, and the people at Paragon Music and NewPax Records just freaked out. But Bob MacKenzie wanted Farrell & Farrell, he didn’t want just me. So we made a record with Shane Keister and John Thompson, the first album. And it did well, went to the radio real quick.”  

Not aware of Millennium or Dove, I was a little late to the party, if you will. My introduction to Farrell & Farrell came via a 1978 promotional sampler album called, Bringin’ A New Song. It was a full-length vinyl LP that came as a bonus when you purchased an album from one of the featured artists. It was a pretty effective way for Word to introduce a lot of their new artists to a wider audience. The sampler contained songs from a fresh-faced Amy Grant and a young Steve Camp. There were songs by full-on rock bands such as DeGarmo & Key, Pantano/Salsbury, and the Alwyn Wall Band. There were secular transplants – Nedra Ross and Wendell Burton. An acoustic folk group called Gospel Seed appeared on this sampler and then apparently disappeared from the face of the earth. Fireworks, Andrew Culverwell, and Terry Clark were also included. And that song that Bob Farrell said “went to the radio real quick?” That was a tune called Earthmaker

It was featured on that Bringin’ a New Song sampler album and it served as a fitting introduction. Punchy rhythms and swirling synthesizers accentuated a message that played on the ecological concerns that were front and center in the 70s, reminding the listener that Creator God is the author of nature and has it all under control. Today’s propagators of so-called “climate change” would do well to give Earthmaker a spin:

Speak the word and set the elements in motion
Tell the rains when to fall
Tell the trees and the flowers when to grow

You are Earthmaker
You made all the world I see

The song’s most memorable lyric reminds us that seasons and weather patterns reliably follow the leading of the Lord, while we sometimes drag our feet: 

Earth’s creation never waits to do what You say
Seasons always change on time
Would that I might respond to You that way 

Earthmaker was the first single from the Farrells’ self-titled debut album, and it was a bonafide hit on Christian radio. The songs Lifesaver and Homesick Soldier were also audience favorites and helped set the stage for greater things to come.

Next up for the Farrells was our featured recording – 1979’s A Portrait of Us All. Recorded at Gold Mine Studio and Sound Stage Studios, the album was produced and engineered by a young Brown Bannister. “I loved Amy Grant’s first record and I knew it had done really well,” said Bob Farrell. “Brown didn’t know me and vice versa, but I called him and told him what we did and played some of our first album for him and he said, ‘I want to do a record!’ So we went out to the Gold Mine and made ‘Portrait.’”

Photographer Michael Borum presented Bob and Jayne in a fun, playful mood on the album’s cover.

Side One begins with I Couldn’t Live Without You, a very-70s pop tune that acknowledges our total dependence on the Lord in every aspect of life. “I Couldn’t Live Without You was just one of those sweet little pop things,” said Bob. “I had written the verses. I played them for Brown and he really liked them. So I got with him and we wrote the chorus together.” 

The pronoun “You” is used in the lyrics of this song (I couldn’t live without You…Life is amiss without You…I need You more than the air that I breathe, You are all that I need…), allowing the listener to decide whether the song is talking about God or an earthly lover. This device was also used a lot by Amy Grant, Dan Peek, Chris Christian, and several others during this particular era. I understand why it was done, but I was never a big fan of the tactic. 

The next song began with Shane Keister’s dark, foreboding Prophet 5 synthesizer but quickly transitioned into a gentle acoustic ballad that became a favorite of many. Fallen lamented the sinful state of man but rejoiced in the sacrifice that Jesus had made to redeem us back to the Father:

Out of the dust there came a man
But he went back to the dust again
He had a choice but he took a fall
He was a portrait of us all
And time after time, we’re like Adam again

With fall after fall, will the circle never end?

I’m fallen, fallen with the rest of man
I’m fallen, but He’s picking up the pieces again

Out of the sky there came a Man
Then He went back to the Father again
He made a choice, He opened the door
So we could be blameless forevermore

And time after time I have failed Him again
With fall after fall you know His mercy never ends

When it seemed impossible, when my hope was at an end
He died and rose, and broke the power of sin

And I’m risen because He took the place of fallen man
I’m risen, and I’m thankful that I’m livin’ again
Yes, I’m risen, ‘cause He crushed the power of Satan’s hand
I’m risen because He puts me back together again

It really is a 4-minute Bible study set to music…a simple yet beautiful retelling of the plan of salvation. Bob took the lead on this song vocally and co-wrote the song with Brown Bannister.

Put More Love In Me was a slice of pure 70s pop, followed by a song that Bob Farrell co-wrote with another pretty doggone good songwriter, a young Pat Terry

Can’t Ask Anything More was an upbeat testimony song – a bouncy rocker that sounded like it could’ve just as easily been recorded by the Pat Terry Group. The track features a pretty mean lead guitar solo from Jon Goin.

Finishing out Side One is one of the reasons this album made this list. Boundless Love is a classic. Written by Dennis Loewen, this song succeeds in offering a beautiful description of God’s love for us, but it goes beyond that. If you were called upon to use a song to explain to a non-believer why you choose to be a Christian…you could do a lot worse than Boundless Love. In the span of 3 and a half minutes, it’s all here – joy, redemption, strength, rescue, answered prayer, God’s grace, His faithfulness, His character, and attributes.  The line, “I guess I’d have to say that He’s my all” sums it up pretty well.

Side Two opens with No Need, another pleasant 70s pop tune that, sonically, would’ve fit right in on a Carpenters or Captain & Tennille record (complete with Wurlitzer electric piano). Bob Farrell’s lyrics encourage the listener to not be sidetracked by familiar sins or by condemnation:

No need to ever pass this way again
No need to fall into that same old sin
No need goin’ back where you’ve already been
But when you stumble, when you fall behind
No need to hide it when He knows your mind
No need when His love is so patient and kind

The song’s 2nd verse reminds us that Jesus’ finished work on the cross was all we’ll ever need:

No need to carry all that guilt and blame
No place for martyrs over sin and shame
No need tryin’ to pay what He’s already paid
No need to hammer in those nails again
No need to spill His precious blood again
No need to crucify the Master again

The Jayne Farrell-penned Find It in the Word is a full-throated defense of the Bible as the Word of God and the source of wisdom regarding whatever issues or problems might crop up in life. It’s a funky little number, complete with a horn section.

And, speaking of the Word, next up is a song based on a Bible story that became a live concert favorite for the Farrells. Like Honeytree’s Go to Church and Andrus, Blackwood & Co.’s (Jesus, You’re So) Wonderful, Jailhouse Rock by Farrell & Farrell was a full-on, authentic 50s rock ‘n roll song. I mean, it would’ve sounded right at home on an episode of Happy Days, that’s how 50s it was. Bobby Ogden’s piano really shines on this track. The lyrics were a retelling of the story from Acts Chapter 16, when Paul and Silas were in jail and the Lord sent an earthquake…remember that? "Jailhouse Rock," get it? See what they did there? It really was a fun song and concert audiences ate it up.

Next came what was probably the album’s piece de resistance – All You Need. It’s a complex song that goes through 2 or 3 different ‘movements’ in order to make the simple point that “all you need is Jesus.” When Shane Keister’s Arp Omni synth and the “ooh la la la la la la la” background vocals get things started, the track initially sounds like it’s going to be a fairly standard pop song...then out of nowhere comes what Bob Farrell has called “the first Christian rap” – all of the fun pop culture references recited in a stiff staccato..then, after returning to the original chorus, the song crossfades into a soft reprise at the end that’s almost reminiscent of a dream sequence. You know, just your everyday, run of the mill, 3-minute pop song! Here’s what Bob Farrell had to say about the song: “All You Need became one of those mini-operas, right? All of those different ‘scene changes’ within the song – very Queen, you know? I love rock opera. Jesus Christ Superstar was one of the first things that drew me to Jesus. Really and truly, it did.”

Bob was asked about writing the lyrics for what he calls the “rap” section of the song. “Jayne was pregnant and had gone home, and Brown was falling asleep at night” recalls Bob. “I ended up, with that part, just writing the whole lyric because Brown, he could fade on you. That boy could fade and just fall asleep on you!”

You can own an island where you own a lovely sunset
You can fill your head with fashion / fill your closet up with threads
And you can drive a new Mercedes while you keep up with the Joneses
You can meditate your life away inside your own pagoda
You can fight for E.R.A. or fight Mohammed at the Garden
You can move just like Travolta / very macho at the disco
You can work to get ahead or you can work until you’re dead
But there’s only one thing you really need

All you need
All you need is Jesus

The album continues with yet another highlight – Scars. It’s a sobering reminder of what Jesus went through to purchase salvation for us all. And a caution that if we want to share in His love we can expect to share in His suffering as well. Scars should be a Good Friday/Easter season staple for believers everywhere.

The album closes with a song that just sort of seems like filler material. A Place In His Heart sounds like a MOR ballad that should’ve been pitched to Andrew Culverwell or Pete Carlson. But, my goodness…with Fallen, Boundless Love, Jailhouse Rock, All You Need and Scars all on one record, who can complain?

Much excitement still lay ahead for this couple. In the mid-80s they famously reinvented themselves as a techno group (of sorts) with enormously popular songs like Get Right or Get Left, People in a Box and Jump Up. They continued to travel internationally and record into the early 90s, experiencing a lot of success in radio airplay. Bob eventually focused almost exclusively on songwriting, penning songs for Christian, pop, and country artists, as well as music for films, television, and advertising. He was heavily involved in creating !HERO - the Rock Opera as well as other award-winning Christian musicals and compilations.

Bob Farrell today

And now Bob is an author! On May 1 and 2, 2010, catastrophic floods came to Nashville and destroyed the Farrells’ home and belongings. You may not have heard much about this flood because it happened in the heartland – in Tennessee – where people practice personal responsibility and take care of themselves and their neighbors. It’s a very different ethic and mindset from that which is found on the coasts and in major urban areas. But I digress. Many of the Farrells’ friends in the music business held benefit concerts to help Bob and Jayne turn calamity and loss into triumph. Bob has written a very personal and humorous book about how God has brought order out of chaos for Jayne and himself. It’s called When the Rains Fall: Trusting God When Things Look Impossible.

Jayne & Bob in a recent photo

What’s their greatest achievement? Dove awards? Grammy nominations? Being invited to play 30 concerts in Moscow and Leningrad a year before the Wall fell? No.

If you ask me, it’s the fact that they have recently celebrated 45 years of marriage (sadly a rare achievement, even in the Christian music industry). Bob and Jayne Farrell clearly love the Lord and they love each other. And their reaction and response to the devastating events of May 2010 reveal that they still believe the words they sang on A Portrait Of Us All back in 1979…

All you need
All you need is Jesus

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

#86 - SAIL ON SAILOR by Mustard Seed Faith (1975)

SAIL ON SAILOR by Mustard Seed Faith (1975)
Maranatha! Music (MM0018A)

They say you can’t always judge a book by its cover. But what about a record album?

Back in the days of long-play vinyl, album covers mattered. They helped convey the feel of a record. They helped sell the album. And they supplied the consumer with highly sought after artwork, photos and information about the making of the record. In short, album covers made a statement. And the cover of Sail On Sailor by Mustard Seed Faith made a very loud one.

By any measure, the cover of Sail On Sailor is considered a classic. Thanks for that is owed to a man named Rick Griffin, a 60s psychedelic artist and regular contributor to the ‘underground comix’ movement. He created album covers for a large number of well-known secular artists (Jackson Browne and the Grateful Dead among them). After surrendering his life to Christ in 1970, Rick Griffin created much of the album art for Maranatha Music in the 70s and 80s. It was his painting that made the cover of Sail On Sailor so memorable and popular. The cover was immortalized in a coffee table book featuring The 50 Greatest Album Covers of All Time. Sadly, Rick Griffin died at age 47 following a motorcycle accident. But his God-given artistic abilities are still appreciated today and will never be forgotten.

Pedro Buford, Oden Fong, and Wade Link came together to form Mustard Seed Faith in the early 70s. Lewis McVay joined the group a little later. One reviewer described MSF as a mixture of “folk, jazz, progressive rock, California beach music, and worship music.” They were different, that’s for sure. Two elements that set the band apart were the flute solos played by Pedro Buford and the unique voice of Oden Fong. In fact, Oden’s very presence in the band made them somewhat unique. The Imperials had shattered the race barrier in 1972 by inviting a young black man – Sherman Andrus – to be a part of their group. And now, here was an authentic Jesus Music band with an Asian named Fong and a pianist/flutist named Pedro! Keep in mind, this was happening long before “diversity” was even a thing.

MSF first appeared in vinyl form in 1973 on the Maranatha 3 sampler album with the songs Happy in Jesus and Rest. After that, their tune All I Know turned up on Maranatha 4 in 1974. And in 1976 a song called Sidney the Pirate was featured on Maranatha 5. Many people felt that these individual tracks from the all-important Maranatha sampler albums were actually the band’s finest works. At the very least, they raised expectations for the group’s first full-length project.

Mike MacIntosh, Maranatha Music’s head of ministry at the time, is said to have made one last executive decision before leaving his post at Maranatha to start a new church. That decision was to bless Mustard Seed Faith with a record contract and recording schedule. The album was recorded in a home studio on a 16-track board. I’ve always heard that the vocals were actually recorded in a bathroom (which would make sense…any singer will tell you that the natural reverb found in bathrooms always enhances the vocals).  Like most albums from the Jesus Music era, it was completed on a budget of well below $20,000. Love Song’s Tommy Coomes was tapped as producer, while a young man named Jonathan David Brown was given the opportunity to help mix the album.

Musically, the album is a pretty mellow mix of soft rock with just a touch of country-rock and a handful of gentle ballads. As one reviewer remarked, “Very smooth, very palatable…it’s such a shame these guys didn’t record more music.” The instrumentation is one thing that distinguishes Sail On Sailor from other Jesus Music albums of the time. You will not hear any blistering electric guitar solos on this album. Heck, you’ll hardly ever notice any electric guitars at all (they’re there, they just don’t draw attention to themselves). But you will hear Pedro’s flute, along with strings, organ, Fender Rhodes electric piano, and even a piccolo trumpet.

While other bands of the time period often offered simplistic answers and bumper-sticker slogans, Mustard Seed Faith opened this album with a series of questions. In fact, this atmospheric song is actually called The Question. Oden Fong’s lilting vocals ask…

Who was He?
What is He?
Why was He born?
What is so special about this frail form?

Why did He come?
Who is the Father that calls Him His Son?

Why must He die?
What do you see when you look in His eyes?

And, amazingly, they didn’t feel the need to answer these questions within the span of a 3-minute song. They just sort of left the questions hanging there as if to say, “Hey, stay tuned. You’ll get your answers soon enough.”

The banjo and fiddle-infused Let Go is the only tune on this record that pays homage to the country sound that so many Maranatha bands were known for in the early 70s. It’s as if the guys were saying, “Okay, we can do the country thing when we want to; it’s just not who we are.” The song uses the predicaments of a fallen hiker, an accident-prone jungle explorer, and a guy who stumbles into a tar pit while running through a park (I’m not kidding) to drive home the point that sometimes we just need to “let it go” and allow the Lord to rescue us. I can see where this one would’ve been a concert favorite.

Pedro Buford

The soft rock Can’t Work Your Way to Heaven presents the Gospel in no uncertain terms. The song begins by acknowledging the anti-war fervor of the day as well as a general fascination with ecology and astrology on the part of many young people at the time:

Well, you try so hard to understand the reasons for the wars
And you search the earth for answers and look unto the stars

The song then becomes unapologetically evangelistic and gives solid answers to the questions asked in the album’s lead-off song:

You can’t work your way to Heaven, no
You can’t get there by deeds
The only way to God’s Kingdom
Is to simply just believe
That God did send Christ Jesus
To show us all the way
So let Him come inside you
And be with you today

Let Him, let Him
Let Him come into your heart today

God did send Christ Jesus to die for all your sins
And only three days later God raised Him up again

He lives, He lives
Let Him live inside your heart today

Musically, the song features an organ solo and a “very 70s” ending.

Once I Had a Dream owes a tip of the hat to the psychedelic folk-rock of the late 60′s. Fitting instrumental accompaniment was provided by electric piano and some really sweet strings.

Dried Up Well completes Side One. It’s reminiscent of a traditional folk song in the vein of Peter, Paul and Mary. Pedro Buford’s acoustic piano is given a chance to shine on this cut. Lyrically, the song again presents Jesus as “the Door…the answer you’re looking for…and so much more.”

Before moving on the Side Two, let’s take a closer look at some of the album’s players. It was quite a stellar class. Bob Cull and David Diggs contributed orchestration arrangements. Love Song alumni Jay Truax and Fred Field helped out on bass and mandolin respectively; Field also played his violin on a song or two. Bryan Shaw and Darrel Gardner brought their trumpets to the party, while Mr. Al Perkins himself played the banjo on Let Go. Bill Sprouse, Jr. played some additional keyboards on the project.

Lewis McVay

The highlight of the album is the title track, which opens Side Two. Fong handled most of the lead vocals on the album, but this song was written and sung by Lewis McVay. McVay reportedly wrote the song as an answer to a 1973 song by the same title by the Beach Boys. Lyrically, the Beach Boys tune was a negative, depressing, miserable little number, and McVay wanted to flip that script. He succeeded beautifully.

Sail on sailor
‘Till you find what it is you’re looking for
Trim your sails and turn your ship around
To the Lord

The song has been called “a wonderful, triumphant song of faith with a memorable message and melody.” Stylistically, it is reminiscent of The Eagles and Beach Boys. Buford’s flute and a synthesized bass line contribute to the easy, country-rock feel of the song.

Oden Fong

Next up was The Lighter Side of Darkness. The “sailing” imagery continues on this track, with lyrics that speak of sails “catching the wind from the shore,” and sailing on “the sea of love” with Jesus as the Captain. For anyone who is familiar with Oden Fong’s dramatic conversion story, the song also seems autobiographical in spots. According to his own account, Oden grew up in the Hollywood Hills, running with the rich and famous (his father was a television and motion picture actor). But, as is so often the case, fame and fortune left him feeling empty and he turned to drugs to fill the void. Oden was befriended by Dr. Timothy Leary (yeah, that guy) and was “adopted” into Leary’s Brotherhood of Eternal Love (which was actually anything but). Fong found himself smuggling drugs into Mexico and helping to manufacture all sort of psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs that were being shipped around the world. Disillusioned when this, too, proved to be meaningless and empty, Oden went out into the desert and overdosed on LSD. He then had a terrifying out-of-body experience, followed by a supernatural encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. Not long after that experience, he met some folks from Calvary Chapel, and the rest is history. [You can hear this account in greater detail on YouTube. Just search for ‘Oden Fong Testimony.’] Knowing the backstory gives new insight into the lyrics of The Lighter Side of Darkness. Oden sings…

I’m on the lighter side of darkness
I’m sailing on a ship
From the shores of dark destruction
To the Lord of righteousness

I’m on the lighter side of lightning
Yes, the light that blinds my eyes
From the wickedness that held me
Before watching the sunrise

But my Lord and God
He now intercedes
For all the things
I refused to believe

There are angels all around
There are angels all around

Word has it that The Lighter Side of Darkness was originally going to be the title of the album. But when Calvary Chapel pastor Chuck Smith got wind of that, he cautioned the boys against using the word “darkness” as part of the album title. They already had Rick Griffin’s painting ready to go as the album art, so they just switched the title to Sail On Sailor and, of course, the Griffin masterpiece worked beautifully with that song as well.

Knowing Oden Fong’s testimony also helps the listener gain a greater appreciation for the album’s next track, Sweet Jesus Morning. Lines like these are rich with meaning:

…the Light has chased the darkness away

…and the Lord has turned the night into day
So my eyes can see, eyes can see the way

It’s considered a real Jesus Music classic and was a favorite of youth groups and Christian camps. Once again, Buford’s work on the flute is exquisite.

The somewhat jazzy More Than Sunlight features Daniel Gardner on trumpet. 

The album closes with Back Home. By 1975 the Jesus Movement had begun to wane and there were even those who had fallen away from the radical faith they had once professed. Thus, the need for a song like Back Home. Love Song had already recorded Welcome Back, but this song was different in its tone. It was specifically directed to those who had once experienced a close walk with the Lord but had walked away. The song said that it’s time “to get back home.”

Then the voices of your past will cry out to you
But turn your back on them and come on through

And many times you’ve turned your back on God
Who loved you first, yes He did

The orchestration and vocal harmonies heard about two-thirds of the way through this classic tune will remind you of Daniel Amos from the albums Shotgun Angel and Horrendous Disc. There would be other songs with this theme in the future – Sweet Comfort Band’s You Lead Me to Believe and Michael W. Smith’s I Miss the Way come to mind – but none have been more sincerely expressed.

And that concludes this highly respected full-length offering from Mustard Seed Faith. From Oden Fong’s smooth vocals to Pedro Buford's “dirty flute” solos to Lewis McVay’s classic title track…Sail On Sailor was a winner, all the way around.

MSF was on the road quite a bit in the mid-70s. Pedro Buford remembers the time they played for 10,000 people at the Anaheim Convention Center. “It was one of our most memorable performances,” he said. “We got to play with a full orchestra.”

The recording career of the band was actually quite short-lived. This is blamed mostly on burnout due to a heavy tour schedule. After the band dissolved, Fong and McVay released critically-acclaimed solo albums. Then the group reunited in the early 80s to record a custom album titled Limited Edition.

Today, Oden Fong is the pastor at Poiema Christian Fellowship in Costa Mesa, California. Pedro Buford lives in Oregon and his Facebook page simply says that he’s been "working for a Jewish carpenter since 1967." Looking back, Lewis McVay recalls the special time that we now refer to as the Jesus Movement. “It was like God Himself throwing a net into the ocean and just scooping up a whole bunch of fish at once,” McVay said on a television show in 1997. “It felt like something that He was doing, so completely and totally, that you were just caught up in the whole thing. The part about it that always comes back to my memory is just the excitement over the fact that God was doing this. It was a move of God. And it was like fresh air. A lot of kids in the 70s had a real taste of who God is. And it changed their lives.”

A recent reunion. L-R, McVay, Buford & Fong

Fun facts:

Alex MacDougall and Erick Nelson are listed in the album’s credits for having provided “handclaps.”

• When asked which album he would take to a deserted island if he could only have one, Pedro Buford answered, “The Book of Kells by Iona. I have always regarded them as one of the finest examples of artistic integrity and spiritual purity,” said Pedro. “I simply love their music. It has been a great comfort to me through some of the darkest landscapes of my life.” 

Ed. Note: Pedro Buford went home to be the Lord in October 2014.