Is Mustard Seed Faith the quintessential Christian rock band?

When asked to name the quintessential Christian rock band, most fans whose memories stretch back farther than Switchfoot will name either Petra, which made arena-style praise rock acceptable to the masses, or U2 for being the reluctant father of 99.44% of all worship bands. Certainly a strong case can be made for either. That said, another band seldom if ever brought into the conversation warrants consideration. Namely, Mustard Seed Faith.

Mustard Seed Faith released only one album during its active years, that being 1975’s Sail On Sailor. With its beautifully creative cover, painted by the late avant-pop artist Rick Griffin after his becoming a Christian in 1970 during the Jesus People movement, and its classic pop/rock title track that epoxied itself onto turntables in coffee houses and youth group meetings across the land, Sail On Sailor was a living emblematic ode to the Orange County revival led by the late Chuck Smith and his church Calvary Chapel Santa Ana.

As detailed yesterday, the Orange County revival had as a huge part of its inspiration the fervent belief that Christ’s return was imminent, this making evangelism even more primarily important than the norm for an evangelical movement. With this breath of God in their sails, Mustard Seed Faith worked itself and its one album as hard as possible; band member Oden Fong recalls a stretch where it was playing three hundred and fifty concerts a year. Eventually the strain became too much, and the band dissolved in the late 1970s.

In 1980, the band’s creative core (Fong, Lewis McVay, and the late Pedro Buford) decided to tidy up loose ends. With the help of several Calvary Chapel musical alumni they recorded and independently released Limited Edition. The album has been rereleased by Fong on his Bandcamp page.

Musically, Limited Edition slides nicely into the 1970s adult rock genre populated by Michael McDonald (then with The Doobie Brothers), the less funky leanings of Boz Scaggs, and the like. Nothing is too loud, yet nothing save the album’s closing track, a beautiful acoustic song that would grace any wedding, is too soft to preclude toe-tapping. The tunes are well-constructed and friendly; easily accessible relatively easy listening. You could slip Limited Edition into the record stack at a party where adult rock from its era was being played and no one would notice due to a drop-off in style or quality. However, the moment someone paid the lyrics some attention, they would notice all right.

Unsurprisingly, Limited Edition is ministry-driven from beginning to end. Full-throated evangelism sits next to exhortational calls urging those who already believe not to stray, and return to the fold if they have already gotten off track. There is storytelling in “Sidney the Pirate” and a whole lot of naming name. Specifically, the Name of Jesus. There is no ambiguity; no wondering if a song is about God or a girlfriend. Mustard Seed Faith was all God all the time, and made no secret of its intent at any point along the way.

Limited Edition and its predecessor Sail On Sailor are why Mustard Seed Faith has as legitimate a claim as any to the title of Christian rock’s quintessential band. Musically it fit into what was happening at the time, while lyrically it stood out with bold, uncompromising calls to faith in Christ. Limited Edition may seem like a nostalgia piece, but even as Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the album’s quality in a genre still listened to by multitudes, and timeless message still needed by all, make it as fresh an album as anything recorded in the here and now.

Next post will review Fong’s second solo release Invisible Man.

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