The Phantom Tollbooth

The Life and Times of Jesus the Christ
Artist: Ryan Brown
Label: Worthless Records
Producers: Ken Mari and Ryan Brown
Length:12 songs
 
Ryan Brown is vocalist for the Arizona alternative band Wish, which has shared Southwest venues with The O.C. Supertones, Five Iron Frenzy, the 77's, the Insyderz, and Third Eye Blind. The Life and Times of Jesus the Christ, however, is stylistically acoustical, and it is Mr. Brown's first project to go national. He has an engaging and passionate voice, and he plays acoustic
guitar, harmonica, and piano on this work.
 
The Life and Times of Jesus the Christ is a thematic album whose songs are told from the points of view of various people in the Gospels: Peter, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalen, Mary, and Jesus. The songs developed out of Mr. Brown's personal devotions in trying to see Jesus from perspectives other than those he has traditionally held. The lyrics imagine what these Bible figures thought and felt as they were faced with Jesus the Christ. Many of the songs, which occur in chronological order, seem to be based on the Gospel of John. They also appear to be scripturally sound.
 
The songs vary in rhythms and moods. The opening track, "Emmanuel," stands out with its proclamation of Messiah's coming and its strong melodic line. Interestingly, three songs--"Reckless Abandon," "Song of Peter's Denial," and "Where Else Could I Go?"--are told from Peter's point of view. Peter as Everyman comes to mind in that some of us, like him, struggle with who Jesus is and what that means to us individually.
 
"Reckless Abandon," which refers to the account of Peter walking toward Jesus as He stood upon the water, conveys to listeners the motion of the waves. "The Garden," told from Jesus' point of view, speaks of His agony and His purpose. The end track, "Mary's Song, Part II," is a joyful finale that proclaims the resurrection.
 
The cello, effectively played by Rachel Harris, adds depth to the traditional acoustic sound, and its use here builds a reflective mood into certain songs. Brett Phillips, dobro, and Ken Callahan on fretless bass, help complete the acoustic sound. Others assisting on the project are Ed Chatterton, bass; Ken Mari, percussion and drums; Kelly Garasha, vocals; Brett Phillips, lead guitar; Geoff Brown, spoons; and Tyler Thompson, piano.
 
The concept of this project is intriguing, and it makes one think, "What would I have said?" and "What would I have done?" Those questions beg other questions: "What do I say now? What do I do now?"
 
For listeners who enjoy the acoustic style and a lot of lyrical substance, The Life and Times of Jesus the Christ merits a listen.
 
 Elisa Musso (5/28/99)