The Lost Art of Listening (to an Album)

In late 2020 Randy Stonehill released a new album entitled “Lost Art of Listening”. At Christmastime 2020 I became the fortunate recipient of said album. I was instantly intrigued by the title. It got me thinking that listening to an album, a process that I grew up on, is becoming an increasingly lost art, ESPECIALLY in this digital age.

Pandora , Spotify Sirius XM, and You Tube have changed the landscape of how we consume music these days. C.D. Players, Turntables and the like have been replaced with phones, smart speaker and Roku. The days of listening to an album from beginning to end have been put on an endangered list by the very conveniences that have sprung up around us. I also have had until very recently the majority of my CDs, and cassettes packed in boxes in my house since our move. I had sold most of my record albums to Half Priced Books prior to our move. A friend just returned about 60 albums I had lent him prior to our move and gave me a record player to put them on line. The only working cassette player we own is in the 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee I gave my son when he graduated high school last year, so technically, I don’t even own that anymore. I won’t even have the severely limited access I have to it now when he moves out.

My process for listening to an album is as intricate and as simple as I am. Ideally, I’d like to set aside a couple hours and really dig into the album. These days unencumbered hours are a luxury, so I’ll generally settle for a casual listen while attending to the everyday business of family life. This initial listen the album becomes is a little more than background noise and does not yield many if any lasting impressions. This type of listen is a first step though. I equate it to walking a few blocks very day especially when you can’t make your usual step count.

After this initial listen or sometimes concurrent with the initial listen I try to pore through the album materials (or the J-card as they call it in the biz). Stonehill’s J-card was quite extensive , often difficult for my quinquagenarian eyes to handle but filled with lots of great information.

For my second listen, I waited until I had some undisturbed free time. With everyone out of the house., I let the music , singing, and lyrics hit me where I was. This was as freeing as it was challenging since it is counterintuitive these days to try to do just one thing at a time.

After some time passed, I listened to the album in it’s entirety a few more times. These listens help me get a real sense of the album but I was still short of my goal of being able to convey that sense to others. To achieve that goal I decided to listen to each song back to back and describe the songs while in the act of listening.

Here are my observations . . .

Mercy in the Shadowland – The first song starts with strains of a hopeful melancholy that mixes world weariness with the promises of unspeakable joy both in the present journey and our permanent destination. Featured Lyrics: We’ll find our rest if we just confess our sad estate. OhJesus said The Poor in spirit shall walk through Heaven’s gate

This Old Face– Whimsical wisdom amid evocative imagery is one of the thing’s I’ve come to expect from Uncle Rand these many years and This Old Face does not disappoint. This song could be titled turning 70 as this is something Stonehill, born in 52, will be doing sooner than later. Featured lyrics: It’s been weathered by the wind of sadness and of sin but it shines whenever Heaven’s love appears.:

Beginning of the Living End – Stonehill goes into full rock and roll mode with this bluesy guitar driven altar call. Featured lyrics: Every soul is a precious jewel, everyone should count the cost. We should all take a wake up call from the thief upon the cross.

Thinly Veiled Threat -The rock show continues and slows the tempo down a notch but ratchets up the lyrical intensity with a song that could be titled the vanity vanity it’s all vanity blues Featured lyrics: History repeats like a nightmare you never can forget. All our grand inventions promise us a better world and yet, they leaves us bruised and bloody and they mock us like a thinly veiled threat.

She Loves Me

A love song about the unfathomable divinity of romantic love. As a man who is constantly amazed by the love I share with my wife this song resonates throughout my marriage, Featured Lyrics: I am much more blessed than a man can be. The beauty of her soul brings me to my knees.

Coyote Moon Every album has a song that can get blipped over in the course of the initial hearings. It wasn’t until I listened to this song twice in a row that I really heard the haunting simplicity of comfort found within it. The truth in this song is an oasis. If this album were available on vinyl, Coyote Moon would make a great last song for the first side. That way, you could ruminate over it’s beauty as you flipped the disc. Featured Lyrics: Here we begin hearts on the wind laughing carefree children. But then one day, they run away cause nothing stays the same,

Still Not Over You This is vintage Stonehill, 3 different verses as examples of the theme; interspersed with a bridge and a crafty guitar interlude. It’s A 5 paragraph essay for the soul, with enough originality to get it placed on the top of the pile. Featured Lyrics: (I chose the bridge cause it actually has the word bridge in it and I’m all for symmetry) Some bridges we cross, some bridges we burn sometimes the scars remind us what we learn. Sometimes you just have to turn and go the other way.

Billy Frank -A song by one of my favorite artists about one of my personal heroes, It’s no big surprise that I love it. What is surprising about this love letter to Billy Graham is how Stonehill paints him in human colors and not with stain glassed hues. Featured Lyrics: You were just a Carolina boy who dreamed of playing ball who turned your heart to heaven when you heard a higher call.

Since this is my favorite song on the album I’ll add some bonus lyrics:

You;ve been the voice of truth to presidents and kings.

But you’ve never been impressed by such things

Nothing is more precious in your sight

Than Jesus Christ the Savior crucified.

The next 3 songs are called father trilogy. This led me to tweak my process just a tad; instead of listening to each song in the trilogy twice in a row, I listened to the entire trilogy back to back . In short, I tried to experience it and thus chronicle it in the way I felt this section was meant to be experienced.

Leonard Has a Toaster Stonehill again uses comedy to broach a serious subject, family dysfunction. This song is at least somewhat autobiographical as Randy is the youngest son of the late Leonard Stonehill. As to whether the toaster is actual, vegetable or mineral, I don’t know. Featured Lyrics: Age to age the dysfunction carries on, like the passing of some toxic baton.

Where Are You The 2nd song in the trilogy walks us through the pains and difficulties of having a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Leonard Stonehill passed away in 2014 with Alzheimer’s so this song is likely part of Randy’s actual journey. Musically, vocally, and poetically Where Are You evokes memories of early Stonehill masterpieces.. Featured Lyrics: I’m becoming a stranger in your distant eyes. I am wrestling the weight of my despair. I keep wishing I could hold you close enough to heal you like some sacred prayer.

Goodbye Old Friend We say goodbye to the trilogy as Sir Stonehill serenades his father with a tender tearjerker laced with hope and regret. Again, one featured lyric is not enough Featured Lyrics 1: There’s a certain tug of war between a father and a son. Words we spoke in anger , damage that’s been done. I guess were both just broken like the fences we never got to mend. Featured Lyrics 2: I should have thanked you so much more for listening to my song. For all the caring things you did to help me carry on. There with me like a dusty long lost letter I always meant to send.

For the last 3 songs of the album I went back to the listen twice while composing strategy utilized prior to the trilogy

Worry About Money Billy Sprague once had an album called Serious Fun. This album could certainly be title Serious Whimsey or perhaps Juxtaposition Jukebox. Worry About Money is a down home bluegrass foot stomper that at the same time is a biblically accurate rebuke of how the material world has altered our spiritual priorities. Featured Lyrics: Money is a thing that we all need. It can serve you well but for heaven’s sake it’s always been the frosting never been the cake.

Angel of the Highway – This beautiful song is an encouragement of staying on the road God put you on. Featured Lyrics: It’s true I’m always travelling guess that’s just where I belong. Moving on from town to town with a prayer and a lover’s song.

Dance Behind the Laughing Sky

If the Lost Art of Listening is an Epistle from Stonehill to his listeners, Dance Behind the Laughing Sky is a worthy benediction.. Consider the opening lines:

Majesty on High, speaks a Holy Word and breathes a billion stars.

Love’s the reason why, He molds us in his hands and tell us who we are.

Life is so much more than just a waking dream a road where dark shadows entwine.

Listening to an album may be a lost art, but Lost Art of Listening makes that art priceless.

For more on this album:

1. Read the review in CCM Magazine.

2. Watch Stonehill’s 2017 appearance on More Than a Song at Dave Out Loud. It features live performances of Worry About Money and Beginning of the Living End

The Lost Art of Listening is available at Stonehill.com for $15.00. It makes an excellent Christmas present, and I speak from experience. :

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