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  Broken Folk
Artist: Brian Webb
Label: independent
URL: <>
Times: 11 tracks; 50:54 seconds

Okey-doke. We already have a million or so folk musicians in the United States alone, all trying to make a claim that "I'm different." Each has at least one special claim to his or her own unique quality, and there are just a few who have unique styles in not just one, but several, elements that truly set them apart from the traditional Dylan-wannabes.

Here's another one, Brian Webb, with a project that describes the artist beautifully: Broken Folk.

Giving the project a test run of the first minute and a half on the opening track, "Shame," and stopping the CD, dismissing it as "I've heard this before" is very unfair to yourself. That broken folk stuff Webb employs as the theme of this project begins to stick like glue almost immediately with a growing instrumentation over the lyrics "thought I confess what it is, I think I forgot / I tend to remember more about what love is not." Certainly, as the listener progresses through this project, it's clearly apparent that Webb exudes honesty in his lyrics, and the music texture is quite appealing in its variety.

Second possible problem: "Okey-doke. I've already heard this from Bill Mallonee and VoL." Good argument. Webb is influenced by Mallonee/VoL and even uses (with permission -- check out the liner notes) a line from "Losin' It," which fits perfectly into "Oh Lord." Brian Webb is building his own style and does borrow heavily from some artists/qualities. But that's okay. There are surprises along the way?

So what really makes Broken Folk different? Those surprises. The title theme of this particular project is intriguing, the lyrical content has just the right amount of hooks to command attention, and the merging of music and words works nicely in a very quirky manner. Webb seems to move pretty easily between acoustic music, blues, plus hints of Memphis blues and even a minuet. Broken Folk stops just short of "weird," the kind of weird that gives Broken Folk just enough fluidity to make it an enjoyable listening experience.

Standouts from this project include the aforementioned blues-tinged "Oh Lord" ("it seems I've made a mess out of me"), "Wrestle the Ground" (the one that sounds a bit like a minuet), "Shame," and "Talk to You" (the honesty portion I've mentioned: "I don't want to talk to no one; I just wanted to talk to you"). Take the titles of the tracks and imagine what a typical folk singer would sing about, and there's the essence of the songs -- plus the unique qualities Webb is developing.

There's still a way to go for Brian Webb. It takes several listenings to allow Broken Folk to grow, and the project commands and demands attention to the lyrics. Nevertheless, Broken Folk is an excellent description of Brian Webb, since it isn't traditional folk and bends the rules, coming close to breaking them. There are a few predictable moments where the listener may say "been there, done that," but the honesty in lyrics and diversification in music style are strengths, and the strengths definitely outweigh the weaknesses.

Olin Jenkins    January 17, 2004


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