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)