78. Between the Glory and the Flame – Randy Stonehill
BETWEEN THE GLORY AND THE FLAME (1981)
In 1981 Randy Stonehill transitioned from being one of the most important figures of the Jesus Music era to one of the most important figures in this new CCM era without missing a beat. After several years of building a friendship with former Larry Norman run Solid Rock labelmates, Daniel Amos, the two tremendous forces merged into one to create one of Stonehill’s finest albums.
Produced by Terry Taylor and accompanied by the rest of Daniel Amos, BTGATF is Stonehill’s most consistently rock effort. Stonehill and the band walk a very fine line between accessibility and authenticity that makes the album a lasting treasure. The lack of parodies (“Christine” notwithstanding) makes the album utterly a rock effort that stands the test of time better than all but one other Stonehill release.
One of the truly great results of the production effort was that it DOES NOT sound like randy Stonehill singing Daniel Amos songs. These are clearly Stonehill songs that are shaped in a more authentic and current rock setting. But at times it does seem like Taylor restrains the more “exuberant” Stonehill and the effect works in creating a more cohesive and listenable album. All this while the album remains one of Taylor’s first outside production ventures; on Myrrh Records to boot!
The title track kicks of the record is a strict Americana rock vibe before there was such a thing. Borrowing from the best songwriters like Springsteen, Dylan and Petty, this is real middle America rock and roll with a decidedly “California” feel. The feel is stripped down and simplified rock that is more transcendent than time warped; a real rarity for the era. Ultimately I get the impression someone was listening to Jackson Browne in the studio.
“Die Young” features the staccato guitar riff that Daniel Amos would employ on Alarma and Doppelganger and it works perfectly here. The “eta, drink and be merry” theme so common in music is examined in relation to eternity and found wanting. The song itself would have fir Mark Heard’s “Victim’s” album thematically perfectly.
“Fifth Avenue Breakdown” is a real rocker. And for 1981 is was a REAL rocker. The street life content approaches the theme of alienation in a crowded world in a much more real sense than most CCM during this time.
Drastically different musically and lyrically from the first three songs, “Grandfather’s Song” deals beautifully with the death of Stonehill’s Grandfather. Like many similar themed songs the hope found in knowing what is to come for our believing loved ones offers such hope.
“Find Your Way to me” may be the finest pop song in Stonehill. Tasteful, soft groove builds into a great chorus and monster bridge before slowing back down to a great Beach Boys like vocal close.
The closest thing to a “novelty” song is “Christine,” a song about obsession and the longing for acceptance. the object of the obsession is a popular evening television news anchor named Christian Long. There was a very popular Southern California news anchor named Christine Lund at the time. It’s kind of an uncomfortable song because of the acoustic, balladeer style sound more stalking and creepy then funny. But that is part of the dark humor the song uses to weave its tale.
The most heavily Daniel Amos influenced song is “Rainbow.” The Beatlespue rocker uses the backward recording process on the drums that Taylor would use often on albums like Vox Humana and Fearful Symmetry. There is even blatant vocal backward masking. The promise behind the rainbow is discovered in this grace-filled and beautiful melody.
“Givin’ It Up For Love” returns to the more aggressive rock theme with the best rock guitar riff on the album. Jerry Chamberlain turns it up a notch here with a much more aggressive lead and crunchy rhythm. Stonehill appears more comfortable here than on many of his other rock offerings.It should be noted that the song was penned by Stonehill and good friend Tom Howard. This is the first of two songs they wrote together for this project.
It should also be noted before continuing that I firmly believe that randy Stonehill is one of the three best ballad performers in Christian music and I can’t tell you who the other two might be. His ability to capture and move with just a simply acoustic guitar and his voice is truly unparalleled. “Letert To My Family” is an example of this. Stonehill’s vocal range and command of the melody is unmatched and I can listen all day to his mellower music; something i cannot say about too many artists.
The album’s closer, “Farther On” is the perfect close to the album. The tension created throughout the album as life is balanced between the glory and the flame is answered with the most evangelical song on the album. Very uplifting and positive without ever falling into a preachy mode. There is a simplicity in the faith described that appeals to Jesus Music sensibilities while understanding a changing world’s response to the Gospel call.
While not the best Stonehill album from top to bottom (that will be discussed much later) it remains a classic with many unforgettable songs. It is also one of the better snapshots for time of an industry maturing and growing out from its Jesus Music infancy. It also introduced the industry to Terry Taylor as producer, and what a revelation that was.
EDIT: Kudos also to Thom Roy who may be the most important engineer and producer in orange County that way too few people are aware of.