Artist: Phil Keaggy/Randy Stonehill
Label: Oddbody Music
Darn Digipak CD packaging! You can blame the slimness of that kind of eco-friendly compact disc container (and, OK, the sometimes shambolic condition of my living space) on my tardiness with this review of the latest by these troopers of cCm who have been around long enough to recall first-hand when what they were doing was called Jesus music.
Mystery Highway was worth finding amid my apartment clutter. Randy Stonehill already has one 2009 triumph in his cap with his re-recordings of his own oldies for the soundtrack of Fallen Angel, the documentary about his late spiritual mentor (among other things), Larry Norman. Co-featured Phil Keaggy continues to keep releasing vocal and instrumental albums over a decade after Christian music radio programmers decided-as they did even longer ago with Stonehill-that they no longer have use for his artistic services.
Despite such indifference on the part of the religio-musical subculture they helped nurture in the early '70s, these guys are still rocking. And often well. And, as proven here, with plenty variety. "Picture Perfect Postcard Perfect Day" recalls the brand of rockabilly Johnny Cash perfected with his Tennessee Two, while a remake of Mark Heard's "Love Is Not The Only Thing" reflects the same pleading earnestness the late singer-songwriter built up to in his final years.
Elsewhere, plenty of Beatles'y jangly joyfulness and generally Anglophile poppiness with slightly psychedelic tints predominates. Considering Keaggy's vocal resemblance to Fab Four bassist Paul McCartney and Stonehill's oft-expressed admiration for theÂ band, that might come as no surprise. More pleasantly surprising, however, is that they can keep those vibes so fresh.
Not everything succeeds so beautifully, though. Stonehill's stab at rapping, "Rockman, might jib with his reputation as a comedian, but this isn't so much fun. Even funkier, in a Gordon Lightfoot/Bruce Cockburn folky funkiness, is the bi-autobiographical titular track.
In a pop music environment where elder statesman craftsmanship isn't nearly so highly valued as youth and novelty (and yes, that mindset extends to CCM), Keaggy and Stonehill sound to be long past creating for "the kids." The humble sincerity and good humor they bring to _Highway_ is primarily directed to fellow saints approaching their eligibility for Denny's senior discounts, including compatriot Jesus movement acolytes who continue to persevere. And if the young'uns want to listen in, they'll get an earful of gentle wisdom and a rocky-ness radio doesn't much deliver nowadays.
Jamie Lee Rake