What do you do when the industry you (however inadvertently) helped create becomes corporation-based, and leaves you behind in favor of whatever's new and hot? If you're Randy Stonehill, you deftly create a record that speaks to the artificiality of that very phenomenon, not only literally, but metaphorically as well.
After thirty years of performing -- dating all the way back to the first days of the Jesus Movement, and seventeen albums, Randy Stonehill has returned with his first new album in four years, and it's a corker. Not so much for what it does, but for what it doesn't. Edge of the World doesn't cater to current trends; it doesn't feature wall-to-wall production or any sounds that could be called "new."
Instead, Stonehill sticks to doing what he does best, writing meaningful songs about real life. Thirty years will give even the most talentless writer enough experience to know what he's doing, so you can imagine how expertly an already-gifted writer like Randy Stonehill handles his craft after that much time. Yet he never goes over the top, never delves into pretentiousness or "wow"-inducing cleverness. He simply says what's on his heart, and that's one of the disc's best attributes.
Accompanied mostly by Phil Madeira's vintage instrumentation, the album is respectfully scaled-down -- acoustic folk/blues songs (he really gets his Eric Clapton on) with the emphasis put on what he wants to say, instead of how it's being said. He talks mostly about his own relationship with Christ, all the ups and downs, the wonderings and wanderings. He keeps it direct and to-the-point, but the stripped-down atmosphere allows for some of his most profound words ever.
Longtime fans will love "We Were So Young," which pits Stonehill alongside several of his fellow Jesus Music veterans, including Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, Russ Taff, Barry McGuire, Peter Paul & Mary's Noel Paul Stookey, 2nd Chapter of Acts' Anne Herring, and Love Song. It's both a wonderfully nostalgic look back at Christian Music's simple roots, and at the same time a mildly thumb-nosing message to the commercialized industry that Christian Music has become. Michael Roe adds background vocals and guitar work on a few songs, while Sara Groves earns distinction as the only modern-day artist to get billing, providing a duet on the melancholy "Take Me Back."
Refreshingly free of anything but genuine artistry, Edge of the World proves that Stonehill's still got it.
Album cover courtesy of Fair Oaks Records.
By Robin Parrish