Derek Webb I Was Wrong Im Sorry  I Love You px90In Keith Green terms, this is his Songs for the Shepherd after No Compromise.

Label: Fair Trade / Columbia
Time: 12 Tracks / 52 minutes

I always get excited by the prospect of a new Derek Webb album, because he wears his heart on his sleeve and sings from what he observes and feels, rather than toeing a party line. Being faithful to that challenge is the artist's job.

Webb starts the album tracking his life via the number of years that have passed since various stages of his career, ending with the comment that  “Over all these years, just three things I have tried to say: 'I was wrong', 'I'm sorry' and 'I love you'.”

It's probably not worth trying to split the album into these three strands, but more important to note that these are relational words. Webb's writing has constantly been marked by allegories of marriage, spelled out in images of wantonness and chastity. He continues the theme here on songs like “The Vow” and “Nothing But Love”:
    “When you take a mistress on the side just to keep the marriage alive
    You know that it never works, especially the harder you try …
    it just reveals a thirst for the one thing you just can't find”

He has also constantly referred to love that frees another, particularly God's. He carries this theme blatantly here, with “Lover Part 3” following on from Parts One and Two on previous albums. All three songs have strong and different tunes and see love from different aspects. The first is from God's point of view, the second from the loved one's stance. This one tweaks the idea to see love from God's point of view again, but this time as father, rather than husband, stressing the constancy of his love throughout history:
    “In the time when time no longer turns on you
    In the place where all sad things will come untrue
    I have loved you.
    'Cause make no mistake, you cannot escape
    I am yours and you are mine
    I loved you then and know I love you still.”

Tied in with all this is his usual humility, the need for grace and his love of the God who gives it so generously. “Eye of the Hurricane” nails the root of the human condition, when he sings,
    “I am the man from which I am running, so – even if I wanted to – I can't escape
    But this is the man that I am becoming, running in the eye of the hurricane.”
On “Heavy” he admits his need of grace and falling onto Christ as he confesses, “I stand on your grave and I claim that I am tall and I'm steady.”

The music is stripped back more than usual and comes out in several different styles. The 'marmite' track "I Measure the Days (Simplified Anglican Chant)” is what it claims. Some will love it, but it comes across to me as a bit dull. In a similar vein, but with crystal-clear guitar and some subtle effects, “Thy Will Be Done” is very hymn-like. “Eye of the Hurricane” picks up the drum sound from Stockholm Syndrome. But the album's most striking characteristic could be the way it reconstitutes an early '60s feel, not unlike the Duffy and Amy Winehouse approaches, but without any wall of sound. “Place at your Table” demonstrates this best, with its Farfisa organ tone and evocative rhythms, while “The Vow” picks up a surfier edge.

Highlights are plenty, especially early on, where a couple of the tracks have Jars of Clay-style choruses. “Everything will Change” has a nicely judged production and picks up the hope theme in his wife Sandra McCracken's recent release.

It's funny how quickly an album can rocket from zero to hero. Early listenings made this sound like a pastiche of previous work, with several generic Webb tunes. A few listens in, this is now sounding like a high point in his catalogue. Far stronger than Upside-Down and warmer than Stockholm Syndrome, this is yapping at the heels of She Must and Shall Go Free, the set where he has seemed most at home in his writing. It may not show Webb's more controversial prophetic side, but it has plenty to commend it. In Keith Green terms, after a lot of No Compromise this is his Songs for the Shepherd.


Derek Walker

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