A stadium full of Jesse Jacksons, Billy Grahams, Al Sharptons, and Desmond Tutus couldn't lure me to the dark side of religious belief, but goddamn if Pastor T.L. Barrett & the Youth for Christ Choir's "Like a Ship" doesn't make me have faith in a higher power (um, that would be music, a minuscule percentage of which blowtorches skepticism toward deities). This song can be found on Like a Ship (Without a Sail), a 1971 LP that Light in the Attic Records has just reissued. Even atheists have to shout, "Hallelujah!"
"Like a Ship" could've appeared on one of those Numero Group comps that have come out in recent years under the Good God! rubric. It's an utterly sublime fusion of soul and gospel, with a subtle funk undercarriage, all of which gently, hypnotically elevates the listener to a better place—even if it's only in an illusory sanctuary of the mind. It sounds as if it were touched by the hands of Axelrod (no higher praise). The Rotary Connection's Richard Evans and Phil Upchurch lend their transcendent-soul touches to these songs, as well.
"Like a Ship" is the album's peak, and it occurs at its genesis, but there are plenty of other divine highlights. "Ever Since" is urgent call-and-response R&B that could make Wilson Pickett pant; "Joyful Noise" lives up to its title, with yet more hot-footin', gonna-climb-the-Rockies inspirational momentum; and two motherfunkin' versions of "Jingle Bells" that somehow don't make me want to murder kittens. I know, I can't believe it, either.
Pastor T.L. Barrett & the Youth for Christ Choir work some serious miracles on Like a Ship (Without a Sail). I now loathe religion a tiny bit less. Baby steps...