Randy Stonehill has lived with his wife for the last decade in a “sleepy little beach town” by the name of Seal Beach, tucked just south of the Orange Curtain in Southern California. He points out the local landmarks--which tend toward cookie shops and quiet taverns--as we slowly motor down the main drag toward the pier. On the way we pass by the Bay Theatre, an “art house” and occasional revival theater that somehow manages to stay in business with quality offerings year after year. Currently showing: Oscar-winner My Left Foot.
I used to live nearby and get my aesthetic fix at that theatre in my college deays, and Randy talks about how much he likes it too. He then adds parenthetically--and a little bit apologetically--that he’s only actually seen a movie there a handful of times in the last 10 years, thanks to the vagaries and vagabondage of the road, not to mention a young daughter to read bedtime stories to at night. It’s awfully comforting, though, to know that the Bay is still there, surviving through the age of multiplexes, an oasis of culture in suburbia, waiting and ready for his patronage should he have that free evening away from concert, studio, or family.
A lot of people have similarly sentimental feelings of long-standing goodwill about Randy Stonehill. For the last two decades, “Uncle Rand” has been a constant in their lives, one of their local landmarks in the small town that is the Kingdom. Yea, verily, even if they didn’t get around to buying the particular album he had out at the time or follow just which artistic direction he was diligently pursuing each year, it was a comfort to know he was there, dependable and forthright in a sea of constant career upheavals and musical mediocrity, offering different fare but also stability. Currently showing at the Stonehill Theatre: Until We Have Wings, an album celebrating his 20th year in Christian music.Full Circle Song Cycle
After a short walk along the pier on this unseasonably hot June night, we settle into his car and hungrily eye the sweet shop on the corner nearest the ocean. Randy eyes it less than I; he just got back from some concert dates, and has to leave for Nashville in the morning to shoot some video footage for Compassion International, the international relief organization that has been his most zealous cause for the last seven years, so he’s fasting in order to avoid the “road bloat” that might look just a little too ironic in a film about hunger awareness.
I launch into the first of about six hours of late-night conversation by talking about the new album, half of which consists of new studio tracks, the other half being acoustic versions of old favorites recorded during a succession of recent solo concerts. I note that, for a 20th anniversary project, this is a subtle but clever way to come full circle, since his very first album, the very rare Born Twice--recorded 20 years ago and released in 1971--was also half live solo numbers, half studio band tracks.
”Wow!” says Randy. What does he mean, wow? “That shouldn’t come as a surprise to me! I had no clue until you just reminded me. This maybe goes to show that I don’t have that much of a self-absorbed overview of what I’m doing.”
So much for my theories. So how did the odd halving of the Mark Heard produced Until We Have Wings come about?
”Coming upon my 20th year, we wanted to do something special, something that would give people a sense of scope of time. But I’ve never particularly liked live albums. This way, it’s something for everyone. There have been people asking me for years to do a live album, and for those people there are foundational tunes of my repertoire, like “Keep Me Runnin’,” “Shut De Do,” “Turning Thirty” and one that had never been recorded before, “Ramada Inn.” But then if you get to a point where sonically you’re tired of that and you want to hear the punch and the clean vibe of the studio, then there’s almost an entire studio album there. The album as a whole fills up a full CD. It’s 72 minutes--we made it by three or four seconds, Mark said. He was in the mastering going”--he makes some brake-screeching sounds--”Yes! There is a God!”
Besides lavishing sparrow-falling-like attention on containing the length of Randy’s latest songs, The Almighty Overseer has also seen fit to nudge Myrrh Records into recording and releasing a new hour-long Stonehill concert video, filmed during a recent tribute at Anaheim’s Melodyland church. It includes more between-song patter and some different selections and none of the same actual recordings that appear on the album.
Anyone who knows Stonehill primarily through his albums - especially and album like last year’s quite sober, rather melancholy and utterly captivating Return To Paradise--might think that he fits squarely into the serious-singer/songwriter-on-a-mission mold, grave, sweet and plaintive, mybe almost too sensitive for this world (you know the type).
Anyone who knows him primarily through his concerts, though, might think him the zaniest free spirit this side of Robin Williams, a man whose mouth moves as fast as his intellect and wit and who frequently launches into a manic-but-mellow sort of coffee-achiever radio DJ voice, full of barbs that ultimately are only self-directed. Frankly, it’s a wide dichotomy between the comic and somber sides of this Christian rock pioneer.
”I think my humor has always come out naturally much more in my concerts because that’s just a whole different set of dynamics than being in the studio. It’s always been a natural thing for me because it’s my way of making friends with the audience. I think probably a little of it is my own insecurity--like, I insult myself before they get a chance to take a shot. I also think that’s a healthy thing because there’s valid room for healthy self-deprecating humor. And it’s born out of the fact that once Jesus has come into our life, you can never really take youself all that seriously again. Or, I should say, you can’t really buy your own publicity again--i.e., we are the highest form of life in the universe and the world revolves around us.”
”It sort of had the same function in a broader sense when I was a kid as it does now when I’m on stage,” he admits. “I always felt different, I think, from other kids. I mean, I was never really good at sports, I was never in with the in-crowd people, I was a skinny kid with the acne and the curly hair and the high-water pants. I learned to make friends with humor. I think I learned to soothe or guard some of my insecurities that way. As a matter of fact, I even got out of a couple of severe poundings in school becuase I was able to think fast enough on my feet that I could make the guy that was about to deck me on the playground laugh hard enough that he just went away chuckling.
”Humor is a healing, freeing thing. I think God can speak through it. Sometimes you can communicate pretty serious stuff when you couch it in humor.”Boone’s Farm Beginnings
Stonehill first began communicating pretty serious stuff at the age of 18 in 1970. He had only been a believer for six months when the live side of Born Twice was recorded at Westmont College that fall.
”This is my Pat Boone story--bless his heart. I remember Larry (Norman) and I going to his house in Beverly Hills. We’d set up this meeting through Pat’s management, and he agreed to see us. And he came in from the back yard swimming pool with his perfect tan and his white swim trunks on--it almost reminded me of his white bucks--and his perfect Pat Boone hair, and I thought he was gonna break into “Aprrilllll Luuuvve.” he sat down with us, and his daughters came into the room, Laurie was 12, Debby was 14, I guess Lindy was 16 and Cherry was 18 or 19. Strangely enough, they actually sat on the couch in order of age. It was like some kind of moment from The Sound Of Music. And it was so cute, because they would look at us, then they’d look at their dad, then they’d look back at us with our long hair and our patched jeans, and they’d look at their dad as if to say, ‘Is this what real hippies look like, and may we keep them as pets?’
”We talked to him about our vision and the fact that these kids were flocking to our concerts and we wanted to have something that they could take home with them that they could hold up and share with their friends and say, ‘See, this says what I’m about.’ Sometimes it’s hard for a young believer to be able to articulate that or to have much culturally that he even identifies with--especially back in those days, when Christian rock ‘n’ roll or whatever you called it was all new stuff. Pat said, ‘You know, you guys are reaching a part of the culture that would never listen to me, just like I’m reaching a part of the culture that would never listen to you.’
”He gave us $3000, and Larry and I did not one but two records for that price--Larry did Street Level, and I did Born Twice. I guess they’re interesting as time pieces, but let me assure you, too, that they sound like every darned penny of the $3000.
”There was an interesting polarization of responses. The disillusioned hippies of the ‘60s and the young kids of the early 70’s were just hungry, and all of a sudden they were hearing the Gospel for the first time in their own langueage, and it was like a magnet. We were getting so much encouragement and enthusiasm, we felt like we were on this ground swell, this wave that was building. It was pretty amazing.
”And the other side of the coin was that the more traditional elements of the church--the very people that we thought would applaud us, really--were raising an eyebrown and saying, ‘How dare you? How dare you cheapen the Gospel by trying to share it this way!’ But we figured, hey, most of them are saved, OK? I think this is basically a matter of cultural prejudice, and I understand it, because they’ve seen rock ‘n’ roll do a lot of damage, but see, rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have a conscience of its own. It was the people who were playing it.
”And the other thing was, nobody knew how long this was gonna last. I didn’t think about it; I had no idea. I thought, ‘Who knows? Maybe it’ll be a year, maybe two years.’ I never planned that far ahead. I didn’t try to adopt some kind of marketing overview, I just was doing what I loved to do. I could sense God’s presence in my work, which was the most stunning thing that had ever happended to me, so I just kept doing it.”Solid Rock And Beyond
Stonehill’s biggest milestone came with the 1976 release of Welcome To Paradise, the first release on Larry Norman’s Solid Rock Records, an important but short-lived label distributed by Word. “That album, by God’s grace, happened at the right time and was in the right place. It was really one of the first contemporary Christian musical statements that sounded like a real record, that sounded competitive in quality, state of the art for that time.” And it came in at the top of CCM’s “CD’s We’d Like To See” survey.
”I remember my early relationship with Larry Norman, which for a season of time was a mutually nurturing thing. I prefer to to remember the productive stuff and to remember the good times. It was a really good chemistry between us. I learned a lot about controlling my turf on a concert stage from Larry, and I learned a lot about songwriting from Larry. I think Larry learned a lot about some of the primal elements of rock’n’ roll and humor from me. So it seemed to be a nice exchange.”
Unfortunately, Stonehill’s relationship with his producer and mentor seriously deteriorated by the end of the decade, as did Norman’s relations with several of the other Solid Rock artists, including Daniel Amos and Tom Howard. The wounds--over issues both business and personal--are deep and serious, and shocking to those who think back to the good old days when Norman and Stonehill were partners at the vanguard of a revolutionary Christian rock dynasty. Though the details may remain largely private, Stonehill and the other Solid Rock survivors were angered enough by the cover story on Norman in CCM last summer to go public with their disassociation with him.
”There were a lot of falsehoods in that inteview involving a lot of people, but what really troubled me was him trying to smooth it over, to say ‘Yeah, it’s all just fine, we’re all just buddies.’ Because he goes on living his life in a way that really concerns me, and so for him to associate himself with me or my friends sounds like we applaud or embrace who he is and what he does. And I want to say ‘no.’ Understand, the old days had some special stuff, and I love Larry, but I’m completely out of fellowship with him. As a Christian, I just have no other recourse than to do that.”
Around the turn of the decade, as everyone got out of their contracts, a sort of Solid Rock survivors club seemed to naturally form, and Stonehill made two albums backed by DA and produced by Terry Taylor for his new label, Myrrh (including what may be his most popular album, 1982’s [sic] Equator). “I think because there wasn’t that iron hand of control that there had been with Larry, on the one hand, there was some security missing, and on the other hand, it felt like sprinting, it felt really good. It was the beginning of a whole new cycle for me, and I felt like a kid again.”Stonehillian’ Schizophrenia?
In fact--though this is one of those things that surprises him when you point it out to him--Stonehill has shown a tendency to make two albums in a row with the same producer, many of whom have been artists themselves. Since making two albums apiece with Norman and Taylor, Randy has made two records in a row with Barry Kaye (overproduced pop), Dave Perkins (kick-out-the-jams rock) and Mark Heard (back-to-basics acousticism).
His most adventuresome and challeging work hasn’t always been his most popular. I venture to say that his last three albums prior to the new one--The Wild Frontier, Can’t Buy A Miracle, and Return To Paradise--are easily his best. But none of the three, he points out, were big hits. In any case, Stonehill has remained strikingly willing for a “veteran”--increasingly willing over the years, in fact--to explore new musical terrain, and to let each album have its own unique personality, without worrying that the consumers will get confused over who the “real” Randy is.
”If you’re gonna get down to who the ‘real’ Randy is, I guess the logical thing to do is to boil it down to where it all started, which is me listening to calypso music, folk music, Harry Belafonte, which is the folk music of that culture, Haiti and the Carribean, and listening to Amercian folk artists like Odetta and the Weavers and Leon Bibb, and then the more mainstream guys like the Limelighters and the Kingston Trio. And getting my first guitar and starting to chisel out these awkward little love songs from the time I was about 10 to 13, sitting in my room on the edge of my bed with my guitar. So I supppose the solo style and that kind of more stripped-down thing--or the material that works in that context--maybe that’s the purest element of who I am.
”But I moved right from that to just delirious, loud, trashy garage bands, where you felt like you were flying and you were gonna lift the house off its foundations doing covers of the Kinks and the Rolling Stones. I was passionate about that stuff, too.” This, of course, came out, and then some, with the two roof-lifting Dave Perkins-produced albums in ‘86 and ‘88, before Stonehill moved back toward the more basic acoustic sound he’s settled in with for now.
”I think if you do rest on your laurels, then somehow you’re not living in the now. God has things for you to do now. It’s nice to tip your hat to he past, and I’m grateful that God maneuvered me into the right place at the right time, but life’s too short to be living in a time warp. And if you do that, I think your creativity and your vision start to atrophy, and then all you’ve got is this past you’ve got to keep dusting off. I don’t want to do that until I’m dead, and I’ll let someone else do it.”A Veteran’s Perspective
Stonehill isn’t dead yet. The completely steamed-up windows of the car in which we’ve been sitting for the last few hours attest to the breath of life within.
”I’m gonna resent you in the morning,” he tells me, checking his watch. “It is the morning! I resent you now. I’m getting up at 5:30. It doesn’t matter. See, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I can sleep anywhre in any time zone. My internal time clock is utterly destroyed. I sleep standing up in airport lines. That’s one of the surprise gifts of life on the road--I can sleep like a baby anywhere at the drop of a hat. But I think I’m just starting to lose it here.”
Since he’s on the edge of zoning out, weakened by hours of interrogation, and therefore probably not as self-conscious as in the usual interview setting, I decide now is the time to move in for the kill. Admit it, Randy, I say: Aren’t you nostalgic for the old days? That era when there were no record contracts or radio airplay charts to worry about, when Christian music had not yet industrialized the proliferation of schlock, when you could roam from coffeehouse to high school auditorium and sing about Jesus just for the love of it to less satiated, less cynical crowds?
”When we started out, it was wide-open. Ther were half a dozen guys in the whole country with any sort of national visibility that were singing about the Gospel and using some kind of contemporary musical approach. There was such an exuberance, no-holds-barred kind of an approach to it, that it was very visceral and moving. And alot of it was clumsy and the records didn’t sound very good, but they sure had heart.
”But no, I don’t want to return to the early days, though we didn’t have these kinds of pressures. We also didn’t have the priviledge and the conduit of radio. And I feel like the whole scene has developed to the point that there’s a broad diversity of approaches out there, so culturally there’s something for everyone. I don’t look at the early years as the good old days.
”It is very different turf these days than it was when I started, but I like that, that keeps me pumped, that keeps me having to work. I’m not a big star, I don’t sell gold or platinum, and I’m sort of a journeyman musician. And if I’m going to continue to make a valuable contribution and continue to be visable, I have to work hard all year. But that keeps you young, that keeps you stretching so you have new things to give. You use it, don’t lose it, and [sic] they say in some kind of aerobics nightmare.
”There’s a lot of stuff that I hear on the radio and I think, you know, this is sincere and it’s biblically sound, but it just bores me. It doesn’t have any edge to it, it doesn’t take any chances, there’s not enough humanity in it. It’s our responsibility, as we try our best to be artists, to find new and compelling ways to articulate the greatest news you could ever share with anybody, to articulate the wonder of God’s love and the incredible rich fabric of the Gospel.”
Surely his goals have changed, become less naive over the years. No? “My goals have never really changed all that much. It’s always been a matter of let’s just try to keep it real tonight and remember who you serve and be grateful that you have some small part in what God is doing on the planet. But yeah, beyond that, I let Him have the overview, because after all, He’s God and I’m not. And all I know is that it’s a microcosm of what your faith is about, because every day you have to get up and consciously, willfully choose to be vulnerable to what God is saying and where He wants to lead you.”
In the beginning, there was The Blob. No, this isn't a new creation theory, it's a perfect example of God using strange and wonderful circumstances to get the job done. See, somehow Randy (and Larry Norman) ended up in this B movie sequel to the Steve McQueen sci-fi sixties classic, called Son Of Blob (or Beware! The Blob, depending on which version you manage to track down). Anyway, our hero is indeed an early fixutre of the film, acting (sort of) and singing (an abberration called "Captain Coke") under a bridge until Blob puts the lights out. Well, somebody working with Billy Graham's World Wide Pictures had either seen it or heard about this skinny hippie kid in Hollywood who was a new believer and tracked Randy down to audition him for Graham's new movie, Time To Run. Actually, Stonehill's first recorded performance in gospel was on a Jimmy Ownes musical called Show Me!, singing "Hey Joey" and "I Need You," both songs he didn't write but he re-recorded the latter one on his first album anyway.
It was the soundtrack to Time To Run that saw Stonehill's first original song hit the streets, "I Love You," still a favorite among the faithful. It was shortly after that when Pat Boone kicked in the big bucks to fund Randy and Larry's first albums on One Way records. [sic]Born Twice (1971)
Like Randy says elsewhere in this article, the album sounded like every penny they spent on it. Sporting a hideous black and white, screened cover with a photo of Randy just in from the dead zone (some Christian retailers wouldn't carry it at the time due to this unorthodox cover approach), Born Twice was half-live (recorded at Westmont College just months after Stonehill's conversion), and half studio (recorded at Sunwest Studios in the middle of the night--best rates, you know). Contemporary Christian music as such didn't really exist at the time, so Stonehill played covers of acceptable pop/gospel tunes like "Put Your Hand in the Hand" and "He's Got The Whole World," along with a few originals for the live side, and the studio side features a better version of "I Love You," and the first recording of "Christmas Time," co-written with Norman and just covered by One Bad Pig! The songs were decent, the energy was rock 'n' roll, and the total effect was, well, underwhelming, but still vital at the time.Get Me out of Hollywood (1973)
One of, if not the, rarest of the bunch, this album was recorded and released in England on Phonogram, and featured all-original material, two songs of which were to be re-recorded for later American releases ("Puppet Strings" and "Jamie's [sic] Got The Blues"). The three producers known as Triumvirate, who also produced Norman's Only Visiting This Planet, twiddled the knobs on this one as well.Welcome to Paradise (1976)
Not sure how much can be said about this that hasn't been said before, but let me assure you, all of it is true. The first release on Solid Rock records, it represented the Bohemian Christian artist's dream: creative freedom in the studio, a respectable budget, artistic control over the entire project (including artwork), and national distribution and support from Word Records. Better than that, it sounded like real rock 'n' roll, with real guitars and drums mixed high enough to hear properly, and a batch of songs so good you would play 'em to your unsaved friends. I think I still would.
"Keep Me Runnin'" and "Good News" from Welcome... show up on the new live album, but every track's a winner for one reason or another. "King of Hearts" was pop evangelism at its finest, "Puppet Strings" was as poignant and profound a presentation of the Gospel as anyone has ever wrtitten, "Song For Sarah" was the first contemporary Chrstian love song I remember hearing, and "Lung Cancer" marked the birth of the composo bizzarro writing and performing approach that would soon be called simply, "Uncle Rand".The Sky is Falling (1980)
The only other Solid Rock release to bear his name (not counting the legion of guest appearances on albums by Larry Norman, Mark Heard, Tom Howard, and others on the label), Sky was more of a mixed blessing. Recorded during turbulent times in Stonehill's personal and professional relationships, TSIF is aptly named, with a bit of the sense of dread about it--not to mention the kind-of-dreadful production work by Norman. The album sports not only the requisite wacky tunes ("Great American Cure" and "Bad Fruit"), but tributes to his late sister ("Emily"), his life friend/manager ("Jamie's [sic] Got The Blues" and "Venezulela" [sic]), Satan ("Counterfeit King"), and the Eagles' Glenn Frey and Don Henley ("Teen King").Between the Glory and the Flame (1981)
BTGATF marked a rebirth in Stonehill's career, his first for Myrrh and first project without Norman's production and guidance. DA's Terry Taylor produced, with the famous Amos guys themelves playing on the tracks. A product of those times, the rocky stuff was stripped-down, close-miked, new-wave at best, sixties songwriting with a punked-up approach. Christian radio couldn't do much with "Die Young" or "Christine" (a tribute to another songwriting Randy--Randy Newman), but there wer two memorable ballads, "Letter To My Family" and "Grandfather's Song" that more than redeemed him in the market. The title tune was anthemic, but "Rainbow" was psychedelic, with nods to "Strawberry Fields"--don't miss it.Equator (1983)
Possibly Stonehill's most successful recording, this one had radio hits ("Light of the World," "Turning Thirty"), a trio from Uncle Rand ("Big Ideas," Shut De Do," "Amercian Fast Food"), Randy's comment on his fallout with Larry Norman ("Even The Best Of Friends"), and a nod to Elvis Costello ("Cosmetic Fixation"). Also produced by Taylor, the production was varied and appropriate, and even featured a guitar solo from Undercover's Gym Nicholson on "China".Celebrate This Heartbeat (1984)
The beginning of a two LP relationship with Barry Kaye as producer, and the beginning of sorrows for the critics. As is often the case however, the public responded at the sales counter. Highlights include "Still Small Voice," the title tune, "Modern Myth" (with new believer Tonio K. on background vocals), Randy's theme for Compassion, "Who Will Save the Children," and "I'll Remember You."Love Beyond Reason (1985)
The metamorphosis seemed nearly complete when this album opened to the strains of a duet with Randy and Amy Grant ("I Could Never Say Goodbye"), as Stonehill pushed further into pop territory with more Production Beyond Reason courtesy of the aforementioned Barry Kaye. I enjoy thse songs more when I view them as part of the "video album" that accompanied it--a slightly warped and partially inspired piece of visual history not to be missed. Taken on its own therms, however, the album just didn't work that well. My favorites here are "Bells" (with one of Randy's teen heroes--Richie Furay--on background vocals), "The Gods Of Men," and "Hymn."Stonehill (1985)
Another rare one, this EP consisted of five tunes Stonehill wrote as secular demos, to be pitched to mainstream artists. An English mate showed enough interst in the tunes to actually put Randy's versions of them out "as is" on the streets of England ("For about a week," says Stonehill). Anyway, the songs were very differnt than what Rand fans are used to hearing, but the Barry Kaye production stinks--and virtually ruined th song that Olivia Newston-John recorded and never released, "Dangerous Heart." Trivia note--that song was once performed on NBC's '70s music TV show The Midnight Special, by Debby Boone, with Stonehill playing in her back-up band.The Wild Frontier (1986)
Redemption came none too soon in the form of Dave Perkins, who produced and played the big guitars and kicked Uncle Rand in the artistic behind, and caused him to deliver some of the most passionate vocal performances of his career, and a "Hey Kids, I'm Home!" return to real rock 'n' roll. The studio band was stellar, the songs were mostly solid, and Stonehilll found himself recording in Nashville for the first time. Highlights included "Defender," "Evangeline," a remake of the sixties hippie classic "Get Together," and the majestic "Hope of Glory."Can't Buy a Miracle (1988)
Randy returned to Music City to record a second album with Perkins in his Brentwood basement (affectionately dubbed "Randy's Rock Bunker" for the occasion). The album's overall sense of fun and camaraderie speak volumes more than the individual tunes themselves, with guest performances from Phil Keaggy, Gary Chapman, Russ Taff, and REZ. Christian radio loved "Coming Back Soon," but I loved the Mick and Keith rave-up on the title track.Return to Paradise (1989)
The title hearkens back to what still seems to be everyone's favorite Randy recording, and frankly, give me just those two on a desert island, and I might not complain. The couplet certainly pictures all sides of this multi-faceted artist. Mark Heard produced this colleciton of songs, quite possibly the finest Stonehill has ever gathered on one record. And though three of them were contributed by other writers (Heard, David Edwards, and Pierce Pettis), the mood is quintessentially Randy Stonehill, at his melancholy best, and no Uncle Rand in sight.Until We Have Wings (1990)
A full CCM "What's New" review of Stonehill's latest will appear next month, but suffice it to say there's something for everybody here, from live gonzo versions of Uncle Rand favorites to new, soon-to-be-classic ballads like "Breath of God" and "Old Clothes." The video-to-come is a must too, but this one's worth nabbing for all the reasons anyone loves and appreciates the music and ministry of Randy Stonehill.
Randy Stonehill is one of very few artists in this high tech and theatrical age that can mount an empty stage with only an acoustic guitar, some fine, personal songs of faith and friendship, and a quirky sense of humor, and give a fully engaging and entertaining performance. In two one-hour sets before the full 400-capacity Greenville College auditorium, Stonehill delivered songs from his two most widely accepted recordings, '76s debut, Welcome To Paradise, and last year's Return To Paradise, along with highlights from his 20 years in contemporary Christian music.
Stonehill opened in the serious tone of "Starlings," but clearly the first set belonged to the much beloved comedian personality of "Uncle Rand." Strong, moving performances of the classic "King Of Hearts" and new favorites like "Stand Like Steel," "Defender," and "Angry Young Men" provided musical and lyrical content, but Stonehill's between song patter often dissolved into comic inversions of one digression after another. A less funny person or a less seasoned performer would have gone off into a self-indulgent flurry of free associations, but Stonehill, in an array of comic voices and self-effacing commentary, invites the audience to share in the fun of his relentless imagination. And it works, not just as entertainment but as a sharing of meaning, because of the underlying compassion expressed in a desire to communicate above all else.
"Uncle Rand" barely showed his head in the second set, in which Stonehill allowed his recent trips to Thailand and Brazil to film a special for Compassion to inform his songs and inject a mood of global concern and anger at injustice. A vibrant new rocker, "Will Hell Burn Hot Enough," [sic] addresses the problem of evil and humanity's cruelty to itself, taking on a Bruce Cockburn-like tone in lyrics that come from a heart torn by what it has seen. These sentiments were balanced by "Who Will Save The Children" and added depth to personal songs like "Coming Home Soon," [sic] and "You Can Still Walk Tall." Again Stonehill stepped out to challenge and call to action, but the authenticity of his own hunger to communicate kept him from pedantic lecturing. Here the more serious, politically concerned singer/songwriter was as compelling and effective as the earlier humorous "Uncle Rand," but the two sides of Randy Stonehill come together in a well-rounded performance, one that entertains, yet prods to growth and the consideration of new ideas.
Of course, each set closed with Stonehill's now standard audience participation numbers. The final "Good News" fares far better that [sic] "Shut De Do" in translation, but the result is the same; because Stonehill lets loose and delights in the craziness of the moment his audience is free to do the same, and the result is uplift, and encouragement. Now, after all these years, that's still good news.
--Brian Q. Newcomb