Thirst 
Artist: Stonehill 
Record Label: Brentwood Records 
Length: 10 tracks/48:05 

I should probably preface this with a little background to give you an idea of where this review is coming from.  I heard my first Randy Stonehill song sometime around 1972 when he was featured in the World Wide Pictures film Time to Run.  After my begging, my parents relented and bought me the 7" EP from the film.  Years later, when I discovered Christian music in college, I recognized Stonehillís voice and have loved his music ever since. 

Having said that, let me assure you that Iím not a "blind" fan.  While I tend to find something on each record that I really like, some albums have definitely been weaker than others.  Some were great when released and stood the test of time; others sounded great upon release but sound dated today.  Most hold a dear place in my collection, though.  One thing I find consistent is his songwriting, his ability to put aspects of life and love into words and lovely melodies. 

One of Stonehillís well-known tunes is "Turning Thirty.Ē  Interestingly, now that several years have passed since writing that one, his musical career is close to turning thirty.  Few artists last this long, and those that do tend to lapse into a sort of comatose adult contemporary wasteland.  Not Randy Stonehill. Thirst (his 18th release, including two compilations) finds his writing as sharp as ever. 

Stonehill recently remarked that this album could have been released a year or so earlier, but that he wanted it to be the best it could be. He and manager Ray Ware decided he would continue writing in order to record only the best songs.  The result is Thirst, an album worth the nearly four year wait. 

On The Wild Frontier, Uncle Rand gave us just a hint that he liked the band Big Country.  Now, on Thirst, we find his admiration of the band continues.  The album kicks off with Celtic rocker a la Randy, "Hand of God," complete with guitar solos from Big Country's Stuart Adamson. Turns out producer Rick Elias knew Adamson and asked him to play on the record.  Stonehill tells the story with nearly the excitement of a teenage girl swooning over Hanson. 

Snaring Adamson isn't the only talent Elias brought to the record. He's garnered quite the acclaim for his own albums and for his work on the film That Thing You Do, and in character, his production here is crisp and clean, letting the artist shine through without putting a producer's stamp on the music. 

Elias doesn't just create a wall of sound here, but allows the talents of individual players to color the mix, adding their signature touches. Tammy Rogers (violin), Phil Madeira (organ and accordion), and Tom Howard (piano) all subtly add their own special touch to the record.  These sonic nuances make repeated listening a pleasure. 

The production here is reminiscent of Stonehill's last studio release, Lazarus Heart, just not as smooth.  Pardon my Martha Stewart-ism, but that's a good thing. 

The idea was to take the sound of Lazarus Heart, which proved to be radio-successful, and add a fan-satisfying edge.  The result is not a hard-rocking album nor an acoustic record either--more of an organic rock album with a little sheen.  It's like a cross between Lazarus Heart and The Wild Frontier, with a bit of Wonderama thrown in for good measure. 

Of the ten songs (not including the bonus Uncle Rand tune "Keeper of the Bear,") only one didn't grab me, and maybe that one just goes over my head.  Or maybe it's just that I find the phrase "Everything you know is incorrect" to be awkward.  The lyrics seem clever enough, hearkening back to "Teen King," but something about the song just doesn't work for me. 
 
Ahhh, but the other songs...they work great for me, including the Elvis Costello-esque "Baby Hates Clowns." If you're looking for deep spiritual insight, this isn't the song to dissect, but if you like fun tunes and Stonehill's lyrical turns, this is the one. 
 
Two songs are inspired by Uncle Rand's work with Compassion International. Co-written with Phil Madeira, who adds haunting organ work to the song, "Sleeping" is a beautiful wake-up call to the Church: 

    I see the world as a perfect place  
    No tears, no fears, no dizzy fall from grace  
    No hungry mouths  
    No one in pain  
    No naked orphans in the rain  
    But I was only sleeping...  
    If I don't wake up, who will? 
"Little Rose," co-written by David Edward, relates the story of a little girl Stonehill sponsored and met through Compassion.  He relates his fatherly feelings toward her and how sponsoring her changed not only her life but his as well. 

Upon my first listening, I was struck by the song "Lonely Hours." Musically, it's reminiscent of Amy Grant's recording of "If These Walls Could Speak." Lyrically, it's a hymn of relational confession between a man and his wife longing for communication.  It's almost heartbreaking to listen to: 

    Here we are in the lonely house  
    We can't talk about it  
    Because the anger might come out  
    Here we stay crying hidden tears  
    Days turn into years  
    In the lonely house 
 There's almost a longing theme to the record, a gentle ache in the heart maybe.  Thirst is not a sad album, but there is a thirst evident. These are the songs of a man who knows his home is not here, that his destination is somewhere so much greater.  He thirsts for this Destination.  In "Fire," Stonehill sings "I did not know my savage thirst until You lead (sic) me to Your well."  "Angel's Wings" is a song about the great day when we do get home. 
 
Even in the thirst though, there is an assurance that he's not left here alone.  "Every Heartbeat is a Prayer, "Fire," and "Hand of God" remind us that God is faithful to complete the work begun in us.  They encourage us that even in the trials and longings, God is present. "Father of Light" is a song of thanksgiving for all the good gifts that come from God. 
 
Still longing for the Paradise he sang of more than twenty years ago, Randy Stonehill continues to make my own journey a little brighter.  Old fans will find much to savor here, and hopefully new fans will find someone who thirsts just as they do. 

By Ed Rock  

 

 

Up until now Randy Stonehill was yet another of those artists I was aware of from afar. I recognised him as an influential figure and knew of his reputation as a great songwriter, but didn't actually own a single album. Thankfully, all of that has changed--the release of a new album meant the opportunity to form a personal opinion. 

Thirst is a well-crafted album with a rootsy feel. Producer Rick Elias has helped Stonehill build a variety of textures--well-played guitars, violin, and so forth mixed with  Jerry McPherson's Indian lap dulcimer. The sound, when coupled with Stonehill's expressive lyrics, crafts an "adult" album in the best meaning of the word. Mature, yet filled with energy and enough humour to include the hidden track...but I won't spoil the surprise, this one's for you to discover. 

By  James Stewart