As long as Christian music legends Phil Keaggy and Randy Stonehill have been making music (occasionally together), they haven't collaborated on a full-length studio album—until now. Mystery Highway is all power-pop and classic '60s- and '70s-era British rock in the tradition of the Beatles, Badfinger, the Kinks, and Cream. Melody is king, and playful, reflective lyrics give it focus and purpose.
The album's strength comes from the blending of the artists' talents. Excellent production, from vintage guitar tone to crisp drums and muscular acoustic textures, brings the songs together perfectly. The album opens with "The Irresistible Future," a fast-paced tune that immediately references Stonehill's rhythmic skill on the acoustic guitar and his oddly effective voice. When the electric guitars finally chime in, it's all about riffs, not pyrotechnics; Keaggy's restraint allows the song to breathe and build. Far from a nostalgia trip, these 50-something rockers are excited about the future, their optimism springing from well-worn faith: "Gonna make things better when they get worse / Gonna shake a little blessing right out of the curse / Gonna swan-dive baby right into the irresistible future!"
"Riding Backwards on Her Bike" gets very Beatlesque, complete with a jangly hook that sounds like a grandbaby of "Ticket to Ride." "Rocking in a Hard Place"—flitting from Elvis in Tupelo to Joshua in Jericho—relates the joy of old-school rock, recalling John Cougar Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." "Dreamspeak" sets a distinctly Cream-y groove, dealing with the mystical nature of the Holy Spirit, love, and faith in a psychedelic jam. Other highlights include a cover of Mark Heard's "Love Is Not the Only Thing" and the title track from Keaggy's 1988 Sunday's Child.
Stonehill benefits from the best full-band production he's had since his 1998 album, Thirst. Keaggy could lay down phantasmagorical solos on every song, but he sticks to the groove and the riffs. In every way that matters, Mystery Highway demonstrates the stunning power of these historic artists. Fans of their earlier work or anything from the British Invasion 40 years ago will enjoy this sweet ride.
John J. Thompson, Christian music historian, artist, and producer.
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