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Derek Webb

Ringing Bell

Ringing Bell

UPC: 000768420324

Format: CD

Release Date: Jun 05, 2007

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Personnel: Derek Webb (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, tack piano, Fender Rhodes piano, hand claps); Cason Cooley (guitar, piano, tack piano, organ, hand claps, percussion); Steve Mason (electric guitar, slide guitar, lap steel guitar); Court Clement, Gary Burnette (electric guitar); Jason Fitz (violin); Ben Shive (Mellotron); Will Sayles (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Shane D. Wilson.
Recording information: Summer Studio, East Nashville, TN; The Smoakstack, Nashville, TN.
Illustrator: Christopher Koelle.
Photographer: Jeremy Cowart.
Derek Webb, former lead vocalist of Caedmon's Call, has been on his own since 2003. He's issued three solo studio albums before this one, a live record, and a solo acoustic offering. The Ringing Bell, produced by Webb and Cason Cooley, goes further -- much further -- than any of his previous releases. While his debut, She Must and Shall Go Free, was edgy for the Christian market (as it examined everything from sexuality to living the Christian life the hard way -- by being fully human), his subsequent records have taken on everything from social justice to examining life in the current church. Recorded in Nash Vegas, it's the world that's on Webb's mind this time out. He's talking about the kingdom that has come, yet that has not yet come. The world may be a treacherous place, but it is not a place without love. The rocker "A Love That's Stronger Than Fear" offers no easy answers to the question, but it does proclaim that the dirty, nasty, get-in-the-mud tough love of others in full recognition of their differences -- not something represented very well in the church, in world politics, or in everyday relationships -- is ultimately stronger than fear. This is an easy proclamation for most Christian artists, but Webb digs in with his poetry and example of life on its own terms. He does have a beautiful sense of humor when it comes to love as well. The very next cut, "I Wanna Marry You All Over Again," offers many examples of how the protagonist wishes to begin again, make all the same mistakes, find all the same embarrassments, and run the same schemes in order to encounter his beloved once more. Obvious? Maybe, but charming.
Webb's songs are not complicated constructs, and his production -- with its reliance on warm tones and rounded edges -- fits the Christian market well, although one does get the impression he'd like to break out of it in a big way but is unwilling to compromise his rather unique take on the gospel. One has to wonder if the CCM biz world -- more constricting than the secular music dog-and-pony show industry by a mile -- merely tolerates him because he sells records. His willingness to reach over the divide ("I don't want to fight/Brother, it all comes down to you and me....") is in virtually every track here. The Beatles (via Revolver) are referenced big time in "Name," with its ringing Rickenbacker guitars and twin-track harmony vocals. The faux Eastern melody that weaves its way into a ringing Merseybeat line and chorus is rather cloying, but it's a solid pop tune. "I for an I" is telltale: "An I for an I is never satisfied until there is nothing left to see/I was born to go to war/It comes so natural to me/Sure as a hammer finds a nail/Death is the only way to peace...." Strings weave themselves around acoustic guitars and a dual lead line to a crescendo that leaves a kind of silence that catches the breath: "I've got a killer instinct banging out over my vest/I've got a poison conscience telling me to go with that/And this may not work/And I don't guarantee that it will/But I've got no choice unless you tell me who Jesus would kill...." The brief "A Savior on Capitol Hill" is another Beatles '65- era rocker that's a jeremiad against all politicians: "Come to D.C. if it be thy will/'Cause we've never had a savior on Capitol Hill...." (Or in the White House, either.) There are some interesting sonic washes in the middle, but the tune is so obvious you get it by the title, and the hook wears thin after a bit.
The set closes with a solo acoustic number called "This Too Shall Be Made Right," which has a compelling opening couplet: "People love you most for the things/And hate you for loving the things you can't keep straight...." He indicts himself completely; he's looking at his own life when he says he does not know the suffering of those outside his front door and that he joins the oppressors of those he chooses not to acknowledge, and when he trades in comfort for human life it's suicide. And these are not lyrics taken out of context; earlier in the tune he references the Solomonic song and takes it to the extreme in such a chilling way that it's best heard rather than quoted. But the faith inherent in "this too shall be made right" is not pie in the sky. It's here and it's now and it's bloody and gory and filled with hurt as well as love and the desire to make all things equal and redeem them. This tune takes the gospel to its radical edge. It makes the listener take notice, especially when he lays out the promise of Christ's kingdom -- that has come and has not yet come -- when he makes his claim in the refrain gently but with conviction: and this too shall be made right. This is the most poetic cut on the set, albeit instrumentally the simplest.
That's not to say that Webb should only perform this way, but his most successful work has been when he didn't emulate some band or producer he's always loved. His first album was poetically, lyrically, his most sophisticated and radical. He's tried to extend the reach of the message with each one, and go further afield, but his language, his beautiful metaphors and alliterations, have been cut back, too. Perhaps that's on purpose. If so, good luck to him. But The Ringing Bell, while compelling in places (and amazingly short at only 30 minutes), would have fared a bit better with more attention to language and less to production, simply because all that stuff has been done, but not all he's said in his songs has been. There's a beautiful reach to the gospel here, one that enters the world in all its tawdry chaos and wreckage, but it's still singing to the church members and trying to straighten them out, it seems. For the rest of us, on this side of that divide, this message can be alien at times, one that cannot be understood out of its human context because if one is talking to a group of people who feel themselves favored by God, how are the rest of us supposed to hear what's being said? As a CCM recording, this is a good one. One can only hope that the reach of the gospel addressed by Webb on his debut, the one that reaches to the broken humanity of those outside the church doors, will someday make it back inside his music. ~ Thom Jurek


1 - End
2 - Very End
3 - Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear
4 - I Wanna Marry You All Over Again
5 - I Don't Want to Fight
6 - Name
7 - Can't Be Without You
8 - I for an I
9 - Savior on Capitol Hill
10 - This Too Shall Be Made Right