Steve Hindalong is a human who seems to really like other humans. He respects and pays careful attention to their humanness, as well as to his own. This empathetic eye guides the emotional journey of The Warbler. Doubt, resolve, pain, illness, recklessness, joy, grief, comfort, true friendship – these show up all over the album, not as topics but as shared experiences, sung with the authority not of a teacher but of an ordinary practitioner.
As such, most of the songs on The Warbler explore the varieties of friendship in some respect. These range from the frank conversation of fellow religious pilgrims on “Unparalyzed” (But I’m not gonna shut my mind/And I will not close my eyes…Your faith is dark if it makes you cruel), to expressions of deep bonds with spouse and family on “Cloudburst,” “That’s How It’s Gonna Be,” and “For A Lifetime” (So forgive me for being irrational or indiscreet/I’m only gonna love you until my heart won’t beat).
These songs also recognize the need we each have to be a friend to ourselves. This friendship may take the form of self-care and a stand against the unkind voices in our own souls, as on “Outta My Mind” (I’m gonna ride a gondola/To the top of a Swiss mountain/Where the cowbells ring for miles around/I’m gettin’ outta my head before I go outta my mind) or “Lucky And Blessed” (But there comes a time you surely should/Sock that dragon in the eye and say/Hey, there’s room for me in the glorious sky/I won’t be denied/I will not be denied/Gonna flap my wings and fly). Or, it may consist simply in telling our stories as honestly as possible; “Into The Drink” is neither a sermon nor a cautionary tale, but rather an unflinching description of what it’s like to be hell-bent on getting drunk out of one’s senses (Less of a romp than a journey/More of a quest than a lark/I’m goin’ down deep in a hurry/Into the merciful dark…Tonight I’m diving into the drink).
But Hindalong also has a history of writing specific songs for specific friends, and he continues this practice on The Warbler. So, what kind of song do you write when your friend is going blind? Hindalong writes “Jimmy A.,” a song about smoking hand-rolled cigarettes on the roof of an RV and eating sardines from a can while your friend plays guitar. Because that’s what you do when your friend is impossibly ill–you get together and do the good things that friends do together. In “Shellie’s Song,” the grief and helplessness we’ve all felt over a friend’s cancer is broken, briefly, by Christy Byrd’s announcement that Skinny has been just around the corner, shaking his tambourine. It doesn’t feel like a juxtaposition, really; tears to laughter to tears again is the natural progression of living. Sometimes, hope just means the expectation that laughter will come around again.
When it comes to the music itself, The Warbler is a bit like an Alan Parsons Project collection–not in terms of specific sounds used, but in terms of execution. The music ranges from lush singer-songwriter fare to moodier tracks reminiscent of The Choir to (slightly) harder-edged alternative rock. Hindalong is a producer as well as a songwriter, and this is the work of a great producer dedicated to getting the best performances for each song (even though Skinny himself doesn’t take a production credit on the album). While Hindalong writes and sings (like Neil Young, even if not as good) on every track, the other players and instruments have been selected on the basis of their suitability for that particular task, and Hindalong assembles quite the flock of friends for this musical flight (Marc & Christy Byrd, Matt Slocum, The Prayer Chain, Tim Chandler, Lynn Arthur Nichols, and Phil Madeira, amongst others). Of course, Christy Byrd’s vocals ‘steal the show’ every time they show up, which they thankfully do on more than half the songs. The liner notes narrate the album’s journey from studio to studio, detailing who plays what on what and why.
Moreover, both the opening and closing tracks offer ‘fly-on-the-wall’ snippets. “Unparalyzed” opens with Wayne Everett picking out the melody on a music box and commenting on the difficulty of said task, then ends with Hindalong telling a story about Chris Colbert breaking his wrist. “The Antithesis Of Blue” from Shadow Weaver shows up here as a ‘live’ piece, complete with Hindalong practicing a vocal line, checking to make sure engineer Matt Odmark is ready to record, then later calling out solos for Nichols and Jimmy Abegg. With some artists, this inclusion of studio chatter comes across as gimmicky and distracting, but here it sounds like a genuine invitation into the process that delivered the music, as well as into enjoyment of the final product.
The Warbler matches the emotional punch and superb lyricism of Hindalong’s previous solo album, Skinny, and even ups the ante with more musical friends and an expanded musical palette. The music will sound familiar enough to those acquainted with The Choir or The Lost Dogs, but it stands out from those efforts in its use of piano/keys, a brighter and more forward mix, and of course, Steve Hindalong’s voice taking the lead on every track. It’s deep. It’s funny. It’s quotidian. And it’s reassuring in its humanness.[2016 Galaxy21 Music | Purchase: http://shop.thechoir.net/product-p/cd_1034.htm]