A few years ago when I ran across Wayfarer’s album The River on bandcamp I was totally blown away by their conceptual style – a revisioning and repurposing of hymns with a sort of vintage 1960s rock flavor. It was so rich and true and beautiful that I made it my top album for the year. When I found out the band has rebranded themselves as Pacific Gold, I was eager to hear their new material on this release, Sing My Welcome Home. I’m here to say they are officially just as retro… just as groovy… and every bit as theologically complex as their previous work.
The opening track sounds like 1970. You can almost see those awful clothes in your mind as you listen to the music. The whistle track and the vintage reverb all sounds perfect. It definitely does not have the feel of a hymn. Pacific Gold manage to preserve the harmonies that made both Wayfarer and Sherwood (their predecessors) so infectiously listenable.
The second track on the album, “Gone to the Grave” sounds like a track straight from the Spring Standards, who often sound like Fleetwood Mac. So yeah, the chill rhythm section and the sunshine-glowing harmonies on the chorus create an incredibly warm vibe. The song is about death and resurrection, but the retelling provides a narrative structure to the lyrics that make the feel a bit smoother and makes them go down easier.
The feeling in “I Will Know Him” is what just blows me away about this style. The lyrics themselves are steeped in what was probably a Second Great Awakening attempt at religious intimacy, but the song here has a free and loose feeling to it, something a bit more island flavored than anything. The repetitive “I will know him” is reminiscent of a typical summer love song more than an existential encounter with a divine savior.
“Song in the Air” has a different ethos to it altogether. At times sounding like something lost from Brian Wilson’s catalog, the vocal lines on this track are just out of this world. The piano interlude shows songwriting vision that perfectly fuses a late-60s Beatles experimentation with deep traditional religiosity. I hesitate to use the phrase “musical genius” but what’s happening with these songs (and perhaps especially this one) is nothing short of incredible.
The sweet and melodic “Spirit of God” sounds the most like the folk sound and flavor that initially drew me to the band. “Teach me to love as I ought to love you” is a line nearly straight from the Bible and is delivered with a subtlety and softness it could be from Peter, Paul, and Mary (pun intended). But what impresses me the most about this song is that it also has a Beatles feel to it, with a bit more emphasis on the Lennon-esque religious experimentation. It’s beautiful.
“Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” is a piano ballad with great harmonies. It fits – both the larger album and the message of the lyrics. It’s most like a reprise of “Sands of Time” that is the final track on the album. Both of these slower tracks show the exceptional musicianship and writing ability of these artists. They have the ability to express lines of classic hymns with fervency and relevancy.
“The Sands of Time” get back to a harder rock flavor, more similar to the album’s opener. The drums drive the beat and the electric guitars create a feeling of modern energy. It sounds like a song from a 70s TV show. It’s such a juxtaposition with lyrics so clearly about Jesus. “Once I Had a Glorious View” is a different sort of track altogether, using a blend of piano and what sounds like organ to provide a very much vintage sound, but in a different way. The piano even sounds different. The minor chord development reminds me of traditional Jewish music that often influences Christian music. The song itself is deeply confessional and the eerie beauty provided by the instrumentation make for a captivating track. It’s the kind of song that rewards perseverance (so don’t skip it, lazy) because the two-thirds point of the song the tone shifts and resolves. One might even say it finds a sense of redemption…
“Shed a Beam of Heavenly Day” sounds like it’s come right from the counterculture movement. There could be flower girls dancing merrily in the meadow to this one. Even the bass riffs – laying under some pretty groovy vocal blending – sounds like it’s from another era. Doing the Jesus People proud, this song brings a psychedelic peaceful, easy feeling to the story of incarnation.
“Sweet Rivers of Redeeming Love” was the first song I heard from the newly minted Pacific Gold and I wasn’t sure what to think on first listen. Now hearing it in the context of the rest of the album, I think it fits brilliantly. The lead vocal really soars in a particularly pointed way, therefore making the full vocal blend pop even more when the others come in. The piano sells this one, bouncing those poppy 60s chords. It’s a celebratory anthem – truly a worship song – and one that I don’t anticipate many church worship bands trying to cover (even though they totally should).
While spinning this album, I can’t help but think of the late, great Larry Norman. Widely considered the grandfather of Christian contemporary music, Norman’s influence is all over this album even if the writers didn’t know it. The notion of “repurposed” hymns or church music is born largely from his vision writing music in the 1960s in the style of his contemporaries with a unique message. It’s a phenomenal legacy to be a part of. I continue to be a fan of Pacific Gold and think that many others will enjoy what they’re doing. Fans of good, new folk music will find a lot to like here. Fans of vintage or retro living (I’m trying so hard not to say hipster) will enjoy brushing their beards to this album. But seriously, it’s great from start to finish without a single skip track. It’s great to hear phenomenal songwriting that highlights lyrics that go beyond the simplistic individualism of a lot of today’s music. These songs matter because they address powerful, transcendent themes using freshly composed music that takes listeners on a soulful, harmonious journey.