165. Equator – Randy Stonehill
No other artists made the transition from Jesus Music pioneer to CCM headliner quite as successfully as Sir Stonehill armed with his axe full gallop on his amp. Many of his peers could never transition from the simplicity and freedom associated with the Jesus Music infancy to the big bad music business. Not only did Stonehill make the transition and progression as an artist he somehow seemed to maintain many of the qualities that made the Jesus Music scene such a powerful force.
Equator was the second album in this new ear for Stonehill and proved to be one of the best of his career and one of the best of the early 80’s. With the help of former labelmate and friend, Terry Scott Taylor, Stonehill was able to manage walking a fine line between the live “zany Uncle rand” and the dark brooding singer-songwriter that his duplicitous musical personality always portrayed.
There are plenty of wacky novelty songs, but with the help of Taylor and the Daniel Amos boys, they come across more “new wave” and less silly, though a few edits vocally here and there may have allowed for more repeated listens to songs like Cosmetic Fixation and American Fast Food. Though he never matched the sheer dark humor and biting sarcasm of Lung Cancer, here on Equator the novelty songs are less annoying. The highlight, of course, is the Caribbean themed, Shut De Do, a future youth group sing-a-long favorite.
But the strength of this album lies on the other side of Stonehill’s musical palette. The more straight ahead ballads and rockers on this album are utterly brilliant and rank with the best of Stonehills four decade career. “Turning Thirty” may be the very best ballad in Stonehill’s career for its transparency and simplicity. The acoustic guitar and light keyboard string arrangement by Tom Howard accompanying the song allow the poignant and universal message to pour through.
The albums opener is a stunner in that it is so stunning in its quiet simplicity. Nearly acapella, the songs simple and beautiful arrangement grows with each verse and is some of the best “quiet” production in Taylor’s career. Even the Best of Friends, which may or may not be about Larry Norman, is reminiscent of Norman’s “Song for a Small Circle Friends.” This theme would show up many times throughout the rest of Stonehill’s career.
Hide Them In Your Love is a DA sounding song sung by Stonehill and remains one of the best “serious” rockers of Stonehill’s career and possesses some of Randy’s best rock vocals. World Without Pain is another song that sounds heavily influenced by Taylor, and in a very good way. It would not have been surprising to hear something similar on Taylor’s “Knowledge and Innocence.”
The album’s highlight and the center piece of the entire project is the phenomenal and powerful “China.” I will not go out on a limb and claim it is Stonehill’s finest artistic achievement, but I would put it in the top two or three. Any artist would be proud to have written and recorded such a wonderful song. Musically and lyrically it is nearly perfect and its haunting refrain and unforgettable musical soundscape is what separates musicians from artists.
Stonehill would follow with the soft and wonderful “Celebrate This Heartbeat” before stumbling with the forgettable “Love Beyond Reason,” the attempt at CCM safety. He would redeem himself with the Spirngsteenesque rocker “Wild Frontier” (reviewed previously), but through it all maintained a level of artistic integrity few have matched. And he did so over a very long period of time. I have never taken note if Stonehill has been inducted into the GMA Hall of Fame, but it would an utter disgrace if he was not.