111. Return to Paradise – Randy Stonehill
RETURN TO PARADISE (1989)
Randy Stonehill made a career of using a producer for two albums in a row before moving on to a different producer, providing a different musical direction and a unique artistic flow. he would eventually return to Terry Taylor for a second round in the early 1990’s, but the 80’s would end with two albums produced by Mark heard. Only one of those two would be studio releases and that one album would become one of the two greatest albums in his career.
As the most important figure to emerge from the simple Jesus Music era, Stonehill’s ability to maintain the simplicity and evangelical feel of the Jesus Music era while progressing as an artist in the CCM genre is unparalleled. And this albums return to the musical and lyrical glory of the early years is not nostalgic, but rather a progression of an artist fulfilling who he is.
Ironically those two albums would share a common title. Where the classic (sort of) debut was called Welcome to Paradise, the “follow up,” Return to Paradise would arrive some 13 years later. Heard’s watchful gaze and gifted production would pull some of Stonehill’s finest songs out an artist on the backside of a very long and wonderful career, at least from a mainstream CCM point of view.
More acoustic and less new wave, rock and pop influenced than most of the second half of the 80’s output, this album returns Stonehill to artful and thoughtful songwriting, with a little help from his friends. The instrumentation is nearly exclusively acoustic with support from Bill Batstone, David Miner, Phil Keaggy and, of course, Mark Heard. Perfectly punctuated instrumentation support an album filled with stunning and lyrical melodies and thoughts.
The album contains songwriting contributions from David Edwards, Pierce Pettis and a great cover of Heard’s “Strong Hand of Love.” The Ddward’s song is often confused as another song about Larry Norman, but it is not. Pettis’ wonderful “I Don’t Ever Want to Live Without You,” remains one of the best “love songs” in Stonehill’s career and features Keaggy’s wonderful classical guitar work. And the Heard cover is just a brilliant work on Heard’s most haunting melody.
One real highlight is “You Can Still Walk Tall,” which sounds like something from “Welcome to Paradise.” The song of loss through death contains some of Stonehill’s finest vocals since the debut.
Though Stonehill has gone on to continue making great music out of the Christian mainstream, the two “Paradise” albums work as brilliant book ends to one of the most important and significant careers in CCM and any true fan of the genre needs both albums in their collection.