Shawl is the second full length album from alternative band The Prayer Chain, released in 1993. It was the band's first collection of all new material since 1990.
The album showed a more aggressive side of the band compared to the upbeat poppier sound of the Whirlpool EP. The band proudly distanced themselves from their past, announcing in album opener Crawl that "Shine is dead", referring to their hit song Shine.
In the press kit, Rode Dog records described Shawl as:
"Led by the passionate vocals of Tim Taber, the songs on Shawl are deeply intimate & personal, without losing a musical playfulness that makes a great band a great band. Guitarist Andy Prickett leads the dynamic laden musical assault with the reeling rhythm section of Eric Campuzano (bass) & Wayne Everett (drums) holding down a hard & steady groove."
The band recorded demos of the songs for producer Steve Hindalong to listen to before they went into the studio. Some of these demos can be heard on The Basement Tapes, a complilation of rarities that Campuzano sent to a fan. Early live versions of some songs can be heard on the same compilation. Most of the songs were written by the time Whirlpool EP was released.
Of writing for the record, Everett says "...sometimes it will start with a lyrical idea, sometimes it will start with a musical idea. Andy will usually come up with a musical idea, Eric will usually come up with a lyrical idea. And then, once some sort of basic structure has been created, we all work on it together from there, as to arrangement."
Prickett has said the band were very focused on crafting the arrangements of the songs, as opposed to Mercury where they instead played with more emotion. "It goes through a four person evaluation, every step of the way. Seriously, every song is scrutinized to the minutest detail. For us to play it, it has to be voted by at least three out of four." The detail in the arrangement came back to haunt the band when trying to relearn the songs for the 25th anniversary concerts
Taber says "With Shawl I came home from some trip and they had written some music and Eric had some lyrics. We put Never Enough and 58 together in just a few minutes. Sometimes it just clicks." Other sources have suggested 58 actually took over a year to get right.
Recording for Shawl occured in the Winter/Christmas break of 1992. Exactly one month from the first day of recording, the final mix was completed at 8am on Monday January 18, after a 20 hour day's work.
At the time, the band described it as their equivalent to The Empire Strikes Back.
While Campuzano often contributed the lion's share of lyrics with other bands member's making contributions or assisting, Shawl marks the only album where he was the sole lyricist for the band, with the exception of a poem written by Everett. As the primary lyricist, Campuzano was at times criticised by their Christian record label for the content of his lyrics.
The method of Campuzano first writing the lyrics and Tabor then writing the vocals is unusual. In 2015, Campuzano praised Tabor in retrospect, saying he didn't appreciate at the time of writing for The Prayer Chain how unusual & difficult this method of writing vocals was. "Tim did a great job. It is always hard to sing someone else's lyrics much less try to fit a melody to music that is already done. I guess you could say we wrote songs the wrong way. But at the time, it worked. And again, kudos to Tim."
Prickett says "When Eric & I got together to talk about the record, we would share fears with each other. We would talk about songs such as Like I Was or Psychoflange, and wonder if we would injure people's senses because they would never resolve -- they didn't finalize themselves in any way that was pretty or cute or clever, even. They just went through some intensity, and then that was it, and we were like, 'Is this right or is this wrong? What's wrong with these senses? Is there anything wrong?' We just came to the conclusion that that is exactly the way it's supposed to be, so let's just keep it that way."
Percussion was more prominent on the album, with the band actually having a budget to buy new percussion to feature on the album. Everett's inventive drumming often emphasised toms. Everett would later suggest he had to be creative in his drumming to detract from his shortcomings in technique. He has noted that the drum tracks were very carefully edited to mask errors. Everett also sights the Smashing Pumpkins (Gish era) drummer Jimmy Chamberlain as an influence at this time, but credits Hindalong with simplifying his technique as the style was too busy for the Prayer Chain’s songs.
Themes on the record include dwelling in the past (Big Wheel, Like I Was), wrestling with a sinful nature (The Hollow, Never Enough), Christian faith (Wrounde, Dig Dug), troubled relationships (Fifty-Eight, Worm), and hope (Never Enough, Grin).
Campuzano says "If there was a theme lyrically on Shawl it was probably about growth & development."
Prickett says "It was about an awareness of failure. Things are deeper than they seemed."
The art direction of the album was very primal & earthly, portraying the band topless in fields, caked in mud, and holding rocks. The clip for Like I Was was an extension of the artwork. Campuzano says "We wanted to do something earthy. Get down into the dirt from where we came and dig up some fun memories and imagery."
The album features guest appearances from Jyro of Mortal, Leslie Dupre-Grimaud, and Holly Nelson. Holly would go on to collaborate with Campuzano in the band Stranger Kings. Steve Hindalong of The Choir also contributed harmonica & percussion to the album in addition to producing.
On Hindalong's production of the album, Everett says "He's got a really good sense of seeing the whole big picture of a song. That's his whole thing, and he kind of taught us to try and think that way. I don't know if we really arrived at that, but that's kind of where we need to be at. Look at the song, not in terms of 'Is the guitar part the best?' Look at the whole thing. 'Are all of the pieces there?' He's really good at being able to mold the song -- fine tune it into something that's really coherent and concise."
Outtakes from the era are rare. Turtle Doves was on the original Shawl demo but not recorded for the album. Chatterbox missed the cut of the album. Radio Friendly Stone was recorded during this period, originally intended for an acoustic compilation.
Live EP was released on the back of the tour for the album. Chatterbox & Radio Friendly Stone were both added to the extended version of the EP.
On the departure from the Shawl sound to Mercury, Everett often remarked "Smashing Pumpkins play that style of music better than we do".
2018 marked the 25th anniversary of the release of Shawl. On 1 January 2018, The Prayer Chain announced a Kickstarter campaign to release the album on vinyl. On the back of the campaign, the band hosted listening parties for fans in California & Nashville where they discussed the album. They also did concerts performing the album from start to finish. Their performance in California was filmed and released on various mediums. The Kickstarter campaign can be found here.