Derek Webb's solo career has been anything but quiet. After leaving his longtime band Caedmon's Call, he released She Must and Shall Go Free, with rave reviews from many, and sharp criticism from others. The divisiveness caused by his biting commentary on politics, war, world views, and the church on his debut provided a glimpse as to what the next few years would look like for Webb. But as Jesus Christ Himself said in Matthew 10:34, "…I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
With three studio records under his belt (And a live record, an acoustic record, and a remix album as well), Webb decided to take things in a different direction on his fourth album, The Ringing Bell. While traces of his stripped down folk sound from his first three records are still apparent, this new album feels a lot more like Americana rock. "I have just been listening to too much Beatles and too much of the great plugged-in Dylan music," Webb says. "I love that raucous kind of rock and roll music and I felt like it was just time. The songs were asking for it. It's time to plug in and turn it up." Though, it's not as raucous as it's made out to be, it is definitely a change. It takes a little getting used to, but it sounds good. Derek Webb is a jack of many trades.
What hasn't changed is the lyrical honestly apparent from beginning to end of The Ringing Bell. But though the human condition, politics, and war get a workout as always, Webb takes time to write a few lighthearted love songs. There's no deep meaning to "I Wanna Marry You All Over Again," a simple song written to his wife, with signature wit to boot… "I wanna marry you all over again… I want to fall in love and say we're just friends."
And Webb still has some good points to be made on the tougher topics. "I Don't Want to Fight" discusses the violence inherent in all of us, "So I'm walking away from this before I hurt someone. Because I'm facing enemies on both sides of the gun." He takes a stand on the use of torture as a means of extracting information from enemies on the aptly titled "A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear"… "What would you do if someone would tell you the truth? But only if you torture them half to death. Tell me, since when do the means justify the ends? And you build the kingdom using the Devil's tools. Can time be so short?"
Regardless of whether or not you agree with Webb's viewpoints, you have to respect the man, because he doesn't idly throw his views out there. He tries to explain a spiritual principle, and then relates it to how we operate under it, or try to manipulate it in many cases, in our world today. Take the already noted "A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear." He takes a bold stand on the subject of torture, but explains that "There's got to be a love that's stronger than our fear of everything being out of control." It's an allusion to a deeper principle that violence is a way to try to regain control of a situation when we feel we've lost it. The song concludes with "There is a day that's been inaugurated but has not yet come, that we can proclaim by showing that there's a better way."
I'll admit, I've given The Ringing Bell a thorough listen, and it's still having to grow on me. The new sound is great, but some of the lyrical content just doesn't seem to mesh with the musical arrangement. Perhaps because everything seems a little less serious. But maybe I'm just a creature of habit. That said, The Ringing Bell is another stellar record in the career of one of the best things Christian music has going for it. You might not agree with this guy, but you at least have to respect him, for a lot of reasons. Not the least of which is his talent.- Review date: 04/29/07, written by Josh Taylor
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