76. Shawl – The Prayer Chain

SHAWL (1993)

The Prayer Chain

Christian alternative was always sorely lacking in angst. Then along came The Prayer Chain, CCM’s most “angsty” band. After two moody and contemplative releases (one an independent produced by the Choir’s Steve Hindalong and the other an EP for “big time” reunion records”), Shawl was a smack in the face on the CCM market, set squarely in the heart of the grunge market with an abandon and aggressive emotional release.

Most Christian alternative at the time was either acoustic based or blues influenced rock. many were scratching at the emo and grunge influence, but none embraced them full force with such clarity and authenticity.

The band could be considered a “supergroup in reverse.” Each member has gone onto other ventures and have excelled in those arenas. Guitarists Andrew Pickett is one of CCM’s best rock/alternative guitarists (best?) and played with Mike Knott, Cush, My Brother’s Mother and a host of others. Eric Campuzano (bass) started the Lassie Foundation with drummer Wayne Everett and both played with Starflyer 59 and Cush.

The band has always been considered one of the best collection of musicians in the genre and lead singer Tim Tabor has gone on to build a large concert booking business and runs a record label.

“Shawl” is a bleak, heavy and aggressive addition to the CCM market that many were not ready for. The positive and hope-laden expressions found on “Whirlpool” are gone and one gets the sense that all is not well with the world. Even the opening song references that “Shine is dead,” a shot over the bow of the previous release.

The opening “Indian chant” set the groove that will sustain throughout the entire album and warns the listener: “This is not something you’ve heard before.” The heavy, Alice in Chains, type crunch and groove will never let up. But in the midst of this aggressive musical attack, there is always a sense of melody and groove that other bands seem to lose.

“Dig Dug” starts slowly, almost like something from Roy Orbison, until the guitar punches through the wall. Taber throughout the entire project always appears to be on the vocal edge and, on a few occasions, goes beyond the vocal limit but is carried by the passion of the performance.

The arrangements are much more intricate than one might expect from the genre and Prickett’s uniquely creative guitar precision shows on “Fifty-Eight.” The song remains one of the bands finest and delivers both melody and passion not unlike the band Live.

“Like I Was” is a more groove driven funk number in the vein of the Red Hot Chili Peppers or even another band from the same era and area, Dig Hay Zoose. Taber balances the funky groove with more drawn out and expansive vocal lines. I could listen all day to Prickett’s guitar work here while the bass lines just pound and drive.

The slower and softer “The Hollow” is much more atmospheric than the rest of the album and sounds like something from the original independent release or what Prickett would also perform with the Violet Burning.

The song works well as it musically flows into a truly epic song in “Never Enough.” At nearly seven minutes, the song is also one of the most vocally “evangelical” on the album. This is truly an epic rock song with changes, mood shifts and Prickett’s ridiculous guitar work. Taber goes over the edge and combining with the entire band performance makes a real Christian alternative classic, nearly on par with Stavesacre.

“Wrounde” features less grunge and a more U2 like sweeping musical landscape. There is quite a bit happening in this generally soft song. The funky change at the halfway point drives the song home.

This moves straight into one of the album’s best songs, despite it sounding nothing like the rest of the album. “Grin” is almost punk rock with the faster rhythm and unrelenting attack. Like a harder version of the alarm, the song drives a powerful punch through the speakers. It also comes across as one of the lighter and more hopeful songs.

“Big Wheel” returns to the funkier, grunge rock that populates the majority of the album. Taber’s vocals are much more clear and defined than most anywhere else on the album.

“Pure” shows even more of a U2 influence and sounds like something that may have appeared on “Rattle and Hum” with its significantly more blues driven groove. Taber is also more reserved vocally and helps keep the song going forward. In a different industry and maybe a different time, the song could have been a radio hit.

“Worm” is a spoken word interlude (if it’s even that) that leads directly into the albums official closing number, “Psycho Flange.” The song is almost an anthem with its bigger arrangement and more melodic approach. The song ends up being the most “musical” on the album with a killer bass line driving the song throughout.

The CD contains an untitled bonus cut that fits the mood of the majority of the record. My only problem with it and the use of untitled tracks is that quite often they fit better in the midst of the album than at the end, especially how strong of a closer, “Psych Flange” is.

I always heard stories about turmoil in the band and bickering throughout their tenure and how the final albums were difficult to piece together based on the bands inability to get along. I wasn’t privy to those conversations, so, at least for this review, I will contend that no matter what happened at the end of the band’s career, for one moment in time, they created a brilliant, heavy and lasting rock record at a time when most of that music is long forgotten.

  1. April 21, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    I’ve tried… many times… to enjoy this album. Just couldn’t get there. There is something about the sonic quality, too, that sounds very “thin” to me. Did Chris Colbert record it?

  2. Shawn McLaughlin
    April 22, 2011 at 12:18 am

    I am glad to see this here. I actually prefer it to Mercury.

  3. Shawn McLaughlin
    April 22, 2011 at 12:43 am

    I thought Hindalong produced this. Maybe that was only their earlier, indy release, The Neverland Sessions.

  4. Mr. Bultitude
    April 22, 2011 at 1:07 am

    I try to like The Prayer Chain too but I can’t (which is weird because The Violet Burning is one of my top favourites – I think it might be the vocals) get into them. I don’t even really like “Mercury” that much.

  5. June 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    I love this album! I would rate it much higher. The Prayer Chain are one of about 6 bands that truly can stand side-by-side with secular music.

  6. StickBoy
    October 21, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    I played this album over and over again when it came out, and never tired of it. Love the raw energy captured on this album, obviously influenced heavily from ’91s Nevermind IMHO. I really don’t think there’s a “grunge” Christian album that equals Shawl. It seriously set the standard, and rightfully deserves a top 100 placement. Oh, and it’s a thousand times better than Whirlpool, and a totally different animal than Mercury, which is a classic in its own right.

  7. Greenchili
    January 14, 2012 at 8:02 am

    No problems with the vocals here for me. Trying to put my finger on who he reminds me of though..

  8. Greenchili
    January 14, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Well over at all music they have the following to say about “Mercury”

    “As with all masterworks, Mercury was rejected by horrified record executives who could not wrap their heads around what it was the Prayer Chain were trying to do. Its release was delayed for months as the band was forced to remix, remaster, and re-record until the label felt satisfied. Inside reports hold that the initial version of Mercury was even more unnerving than the final one, bordering at times on being thoroughly unlistenable. Pity it will never see the light of day.”

    So maybe that explains a little of what was going on.

  9. Kit
    February 8, 2012 at 5:11 am

    This is a good album, but Mercury stomps all over it and then sweeps it under the carpet. Come to think of it, it does that to about 90% of what appears on this list.

  10. Brendan
    September 30, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I’m with Kit. Mercury stomps just about everything I’ve ever heard. I will say Mercury is not one of those albums that you like initially. It has to grow on you. For a long time it was one of my least favorite albums, now I can’t get over how amazing it is. The propper way to enjoy Mercury is to find a block of about an hour and a half that you can be alone. Find a nice quiet room where you won’t be disturbed with a comfortable couch or bed and either good headphones or a good sound system. Shut off your phone, light some candles and just relax. Take the album in Just sit or lay down and enjoy the ride. Some people may not be ready for it.If you let it, it will take you to some amazing places. I would easily put it on par with Radiohead’s “OK Computer.”

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