The Phantom Tollbooth

Artist:  Steve Hindalong
Label: Cadence Records
Producer: Wayne Everett
Time: 50:52 / Lucky 13 tracks
Anyone who heard Steve Hindalong sing lead vocals on "Let the Sky Fall" from The Choir's 1993 album Kissers & Killers might share some scepticism about a Hindalong solo project. He is no world-class singer (and might be the first to admit it). On the flip-side, his pairing with longtime collaborator Derri Daugherty as The Choir certainly proves his appreciable ability to write some of the very best lyrics ACM has to offer and to bang some great skins besides. Now that was a pairing of two great talents that not only made great sense, but made for a series of some of the most popular, creative, and enduring albums of the last fifteen years or so.

Besides The Choir and being a devoted family man, Hindalong has also served as an exceptional producer for some bands' best albums like The Prayer Chain's Mercury and Common Children's Delicate Fade. Given those impressive production credits over the years, he has a talented host of friends willing and able to make musical contributions, and they do in droves. The band credits on Skinny read like a "Who's Who" of really hip Christian musicians:John Austin, Marc Byrd, Tim Chandler, Chris Colbert, Gene Eugene, Wayne Everett, Christine Glass, Jenny Gullen, Mike Knott, Jason Martin, Andy Prickett, Matt Slocum, and Terry Taylor. With a cast like that, you know the show is going to be a good one.
Not surprisingly, the combination of all these elements results in a solo album of solid musical chops; poetic, witty, insightful and fun lyrics; and, regrettably, vocals that don't always live up to the rest of the album's potential. The overall sound is akin to a more aggressive At the Foot of the Cross sound, being a fuzzified kind of percussive folk music. Plus there are bits of the Ocean Blue, splashes of  The Lemonheads, and a whole lot of Hindalong throw in for good measure. The result--a Choiresque version of classic rock meets singer-songwriter folk via modern rock vibes--is exceedingly well done.

Although Hindalong could have taken a tip from Undercover's Ojo Taylor and had other vocalists sing more, getting him out from behind the drum set and into the limelight has its curious merits--like Hindalong's adequate guitar playing (who knew?). Skinny is far from the  embarrassment sceptics might have expected. Far from it. The song-writing is too true to his signature style for that, and once you've warmed up to his vocal delivery (you will), the melodies are more than memorable; they're extremely catchy. Singing along is an option, and your shower-only voice will seem right at home here.
Skinny is very nearly the classic keepsake fans might hope for--something more vocal effects and/or guest vocalist spots might have further remedied. Regardless, to his credit, Hindalong's wispy vocals are right at home on these tracks, and a few songs like the modern rockers "Color Wheel," "Digging Your Style," and "Hey Killer" are genuinely enthusiastic highlights. Actually, of the thirteen tracks on the album, not one of them is a dog, and the majority are truly meritorious. Special attention should be paid to the slightly mellower fare like "Winnipesaukee" and "To Be a Blessing," which showcase Hindalong at his best. If you're looking for something more humorous, "Woe is Skinny" may bring a chuckle, and "Love Sanctifies" satisfies the more worship-oriented. From the gentle and melodic to the dramatic and driving, all and all, there's something here for every fan.
Skinny is a bold effort representing Hindalong's requisite charm and gift for introspection, quaint images, and clever metaphors. There are far worse ways for him to waste his time between Choir albums, and it would pain me to pen that this project lacked pizzazz. Gratefully, I don't have to. The last thing I want to do is rain on Hindalong's parade and squelch dreams of his solo career. He is an exceptional artist and deserves his due. Nevertheless, even in light of this album's strengths, I would personally prefer to see him keep his day job, too: producing great albums for others worthy of recognition, and writing superb songs and creatively drumming to them for The Choir. It's not about fearing change; it's about wanting to see a celebrated legacy continue. Let's hope this is a case of having our cake and eating it, too.
By Steven Stuart Baldwin (10/2/98)