The Phantom Tollbooth


Wither Wing
Artist: Browbeats (various)
Label: KMG
Length: 11 tracks / 41:25
 
Five years ago an album called Brow Beat--Unplugged Alternative featured some of the best Christian alternative bands around doing acoustic originals. They were (still are) some of the coolest songs I've ever heard. Now, Michael Knott has resurrected the name for a sequel, while changing the concept quite a bit. This time we are treated to a number of the best Christian alternative personalities fronting songs almost entirely written by Knott and played by an all-star cast of musicians (The Prayer Chain minus Tim Taber, LSU/Lifesavers members, Gene Eugene, and Knott himself).
 
Not all of the songs are new material from Knott. Two of them are Aunt Bettys tunes from Ford Supersonic, including a weak remake of "Getting Normal" and two versions of "Ricki Racer."  The first version seems no different from the original, while "Ricki Racer II" is done with smooth female vocals and a funky bass-line and drumbeat.  "Tattoo" from Strip Cycle is also remade, with a slightly rockier feel than the original.
 
From the first few seconds of Wither Wing you know this sure isn't like the first Browbeat album, as a white-boy-does-hip-hop voice immediately claims that "You ain't got a hold on what I'm sayin', ya know what I'm sayin'?" Thankfully, the cheesy posturing is over soon, and Ted Cookerly of Every Day Life kicks into the first song, "Stonergirl." It's a great tune that showcases a more melodic, pop direction for the EDL rapcore vocalist (a trend also found on EDL's song on the RIM-v.beta compilation).
 
Following Cookerly are notables like Scott Silletta (Plankeye), Gene Eugene (Adam Again), Terry Taylor (DA), Jason Martin (Starflyer 59), and Wayne Everett (The Prayer Chain) taking turns fronting songs penned by Knott (except for one co-written by Taylor). All of the featured personalities have powerful enough styles to cast their own personas onto these songs, and thus please their respective fans; however, it is Knott's musical heart that beats throughout the project. Though his sound can always be detected, sometimes his influence is more noticeable and overpowering than at other times. Due to this, and the more electric rather than acoustic nature of most of these songs, comparing this to the original Brow Beat is hard. That album was such an eye-opener to me, simultaneously introducing my ears to good acoustic music as well as to Michael Knott, LSU, The Choir, and others. Their quiet rebuking of legalism and dogma was a turning point in my spiritual life that I can quite clearly point to today. Wither Wing just doesn't have the same effect. The tone is way more upbeat and playful, the poetic messages of truth (if any) go unheard and unread (no lyric sheet), and the music is void of any emotional impact. The only exception might be the title track, a slow Beatlesque song sung by Everett and moved along by Eugene's retro-mellow keyboards.
 
On the whole, Browbeats Presents Wither Wing is a great concept of strong interest to any fan of alternative music, especially of these featured musicians. The songs are well-made and catchy, drawing on recognizable classic and modern rock sounds which are kept far from staleness by the dynamic personalities of the players. Just don't expect the original's same sense of spiritual searching.
 
By Josh Spencer  (9/13/98)

For fans of the previous Browbeats collection, this new album is a rude awakening. The more gentle, acoustic vibes of the previous collection have been mostly shoved aside for Michael Knott's signature brand of LSU-style rock'n' roll here. In fact, this collection sounds and feels most like the brash rock of an Aunt Betty's album, particularly their last one, Ford Supersonic, which continued their 1990s version of alternative tunes awash with more classic rock underpinnings. Not coincidently, Knott wrote or co-wrote all these songs; four are repeats from the Ford Supersonic collection (the difference being primarily that Terry Taylor of Daniel Amos and Scott Siletta of PlankEye guest on vocals for these versions). There are some shades of Michael Knott's solo work from Strip Cycle, too, and again another repeat, this time with "Tatoo" getting the full-throttle rock treatment and actually improving on the original's energy.

The Browbeats band is primarily a mix of former Aunt Betty's and Prayer Chain members, so the alterna-rock playing is decidedly solid throughout, without quite reaching the heights either of those bands have taken us to on their own. You also cannot go wrong with the guest vocalists, which include Adam Again's Gene Eugene on an appropriately plaintive yet peppy tune, Jason Martin from Starflyer 59 on a suitably dreamy rock number, and Every Day Life's Ted Cookerly starring as a guest rapper on the opening track, "Stonergirl." In particular Eugene's take on "Out of Time" is a rare mellower moment and an album highlight due to his respectable melancholic delivery. He also played the album's keyboard parts. Naturally, Michael Knott himself sings a handful of these songs, including the quirky "Herb's Garage" and "Ricki Racer." The sum of these eclectic parts is an enjoyable 40 minutes of trademark Knott and friends fun.

Michael Knott is prolific; in fact, he is more prolific than most songwriters (with VOL's Bill Mallonee and DA's Terry Taylor being noted competitors for the coveted "Most Prolific" title). Given Knott's ability to pen a tune at the drop of a high-hat, this collection curiously offers more retreaded material than most of his projects. Without questioning Knott's motives about whether this collection was truly conceived as an entity unto itself, it certainly serves as a means of marketing his music to a larger audience by including a gaggle of guest vocalists. Perhaps his decision to include former material was made for artistic reasons, or simply to provide better access to songs from the Aunt Betty's harder to find Ford Supersonic album, or both. Maybe Knott just liked the idea of hearing friends like Terry Taylor sing his songs (and I quite agree). Regardless, Knott's music deserves to be heard in any form, and the sheer cheer of this rollicking set will have you exceeding the speed limit if you're not careful.

By  Steven Stuart Baldwin (3/8/99)