The Phantom Tollbooth

Music and more from a Christian perspective

Slow down, and have your change ready

Since 1996

Tony Fire 90 jpgThis rock-minded acoustic self-release has several surprises.  I wish there were more like him – inventive types, who wait until they have quality material and then give it their best shot.

Label:     Independent (
Time:     11 Tracks /44 minutes

Houston-based Tony Casella is a man of surprises, and the first is his big entrance. Not one to do things gently, he bursts into this release as if the PA has broken and he’s trying to sing to the third tier of the balcony – and at this stage, he’s still playing acoustic guitar. What’s more, he’s opening the disc with a rock song in 3/4 time.

He shows his versatility in the first few songs. The acoustic-electric split of the grungey “Set Me Free” sets up the range of material to follow. “If Ever” is a rock ballad that – along with one or two others – carries hints of Mediterranean and Flamenco aromas, while “Anomaly of Anomalies” has something different again going on: it has the feel of unplugged Nirvana, only with Mac Powell singing. But there is more to come. Stephen Delopoulos-like vocals, the rhythms and even the chord progressions combine to make “Distorted Forms” sound quite like a rocky Burlap to Cashmere outtake.

And one of the biggest highlights comes last:  “Whatever It Means to You” is wordless, but has a life of its own. Built from percussive samples and a simple bass line, Casella uses his vocals to build a mood and then drop it down again. It is the archetypal simple-but-effective strategy, one that sums up much of this disc.

Not everything shines. Although worth including, “Solace” sounds quite flat at the start, until it builds into the acoustic emo type sound that Nouveaux and a host of CCM sound-alikes used to churn out.

Casella takes faith themes – prayers, reflections on life and comments about the world - and keeps them refreshingly clear of jargon.

This is an independent release. As such, having just a trio to work with, the sound could have been really lo-fi, but the mix is so finely tuned that it is a real pleasure to listen to. It is the same with the song selection; Casella waited ten years before releasing this, so this is the cream of his produce. I wish there were more like him – inventive types, who wait until they have quality material and then give it their best shot, rather than banging out a collection as soon as they can muster 40 minutes-worth.


Derek Walker

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