Derek Webb Grows Up
I Was Wrong,I'm Sorry & I Love You
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In the lyrical countdown that begins his latest album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You (Fair Trade), Derek Webb gives a running tally of the steps he's taken—largely away from the loving embrace of the Christian music industry—since he traded his membership in acoustic pop band Caedmon's Call for a solo career:
It's been 20 years since I rose and cleared my throat.
It's been 10 years since I stood outside the church.
Webb's journey has been increasingly unconventional, musically speaking, since his early days crafting pleasant college folk tunes with Caedmon's Call, now entering its 20th year. On his solo debut, She Must and Shall Go Free (2003), Webb wielded his acoustic guitar. But he quickly began to experiment, branching out from the bluegrass, folk, and country roots beneath him.
The next, I See Things Upside Down (2004), was Webb's art-rock record, content to meander, linger, and explore as Webb grabbed an electric guitar for the first time. Mockingbird (2005) knocked on several musical doors that Webb would charge through on later albums. The Ringing Bell (2007), a tribute to 1960s protest music, followed suit.
From there, the journey became either increasingly interesting or increasingly difficult to follow, depending on the listener. StockholmSyndrome (2009) traded guitars for a laptop, and Feedback (2010) was entirely instrumental. Those two recordings took Webb farthest from his core audience—Christians who spend time on the fringes of Christian music. But 2012's Ctrl began to bring him back. Now, I Was Wrong, which officially released September 3, completes the circle.
The Long Way Home
Like the music, Webb's lyrics have taken the long way home. Webb was always the sensitive, vulnerable member of Caedmon's Call, writing songs about loss and love. But as a solo artist, Webb has blazed trails toward whatever theological or social questions have grabbed his attention.
Without a doubt, She Must and Shall Go Free suffered commercially because of Webb's bravado. "Wedding Dress," the hallmark of that first solo album, displays Webb's confessional style with lines like, "I am a whore I do confess / I put you on just like a wedding dress / And run down the aisle to you." Such are lyrics you can write when your music need not fit a "safe for the whole family" rubric.
Each new release pushed farther in this direction, as Webb continued to explore what the label Christian meant as a world-upending noun, not primarily as a market-segment adjective. From the singer and his church being a "whore" to lampooning and lamenting the Christian marketplace on Upside Down ("T-Shirts"), to questioning nationalism on Mockingbird ("A King & A Kingdom") and confronting systems of violence on Ringing Bell ("A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear"), Webb left few stones unturned.
For many listeners, no doubt, some of Webb's lyrics sounded more like casting stones, judging a compromised church. But the tone is softened if you hear the songs as documenting Webb's journey from a kind of musical priest in a sanitized system, to a musical prophet newly free to explore and speak the truth. And Webb has always insisted that he's writing most of all about his own journey and attendant failures.