Artist: Derek Webb
Label: Integrity Media
Release Date: Dec. 27, 2005, then released for free online on Sept. 1, 2006.
Review by: Eric Pettersson
After almost ten years leading Caedmon’s Call, Derek Webb went solo in 2003. After releasing three albums, he decided about a month ago to offer his most recent work, Mockingbird, completely for free through www.freederekwebb.com. In the about section of this website, Derek explained that music can play a very important role in getting people to think, and that he, much like Keith Green, has decided that he cares enough about getting these conversations going that he is giving away his music. So the obvious questions remaining, is this music good, and do the lyrics actually spark deep thought and challenging conversation?
Considering his musical background, it will be assumed that Derek Webb has taken an acoustic folk route to getting his message out there, and “Mockingbird,” the first song and title track, shows that this assumption is correct. Still, this is not just a one man acoustic band. It starts off with two acoustic guitars and Derek’s smooth tenor, eventually adding a piano, then drums, then strings. This song acts as the introduction to the album, stating that all he does is repeats what he hears, offering the truth written by someone else. “A New Law” jumps right into Derek’s openness in talking about controversy by saying “Don’t teach me about politics and government, just tell me who to vote for. Don’t teach me about truth and beauty, just label my music.” He continues listing ways that we as Christians prefer to create laws for ourselves rather than listening to the Spirit, because we like to simplify things to black and white even when reality is so much more complex. “A King A Kingdom” starts with a slow drum and piano, slowly adding vocals, bass, and the acoustic guitar. This is a very challenging song about how “My first allegience is not to the flag, a country, or a man. My first allegience is not to democracy. It’s to a king and a kingdom.” It goes on to condemn the current belief of the church that “Jesus Christ is a white middle-class Republican, and if you wanna be saved then you’d better learn to be like him.” The mood is lightened for a moment with “I Hate Everything (But You),” a love song to his wife about how sometimes the world can be frustrating, but she helps him to love life. But to those of us who are already feeling challenged and convicted will barely remember this song by the end of “Rich Young Ruler.” This song reminds us of Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler to sell everything and give the money to the poor, and how hard that is for American Christians since we live in such a rich ruling nation. It also reminds us that whatever we do to our fellow man, we do to Jesus, such as feeding him when he’s hungry. We are given another break with the minute and a half long string and bell instrumental, “A Consistent Ethic of Human Life.” And this makes sense considering the next song will be the most controversial one on the whole album. “My Enemies Are Men Like Me” bodly says “peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication. It’s like telling someone murder is wrong and then showing them by way of execution.” The chorus explains this by saying “I would rather die than to take your life, because how can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love? My enemies are men like me.” Towards the end of the song, the piano, drums, and guitar continue, but Derek stops singing for a clip of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech to be played, which talks about nonviolence being the answer, followed by the chorus one last time. “Zeroes and Ones” is a slower track with a great piano melody tying everything together while Webb speaks mostly on the vanity of life. “In God We Trust” talks about how God “uses both good and evil men” to do his will, and how complex life can be, but we should continue to trust God “even when he looks like the enemy.” Again, the mood is lightened for a love song with “Please, Before I Go,” a happily paced folk song to “the wife of my youth, and my drug of choice.” From here we enter the piano led ballad, “Love Is Not Against the Law.” Drums are added once we reach the chorus after the first verse and continue through the second verse which asks the question “are we defending life, when we just pick and choose lives acceptable to lose, and which ones to defend?” This was a great choice for a closing track, as it sumarizes the entire record’s theme of true love, the love of Jesus, bringing life and freedom, and how we are supposed to in turn show that love to the world.
To answer my introductory questions, yes, Derek Webb is an amazing musician, and yes, his lyrics are probably the most challenging, thought provoking lyrics I’ve ever heard. I am personally still undecided if I believe every little thing said on this record, but that’s not the point. The point is that it will make people think about the issues, realizing that their opinions are not held by all Christians. Hopefully, this album will accomplish its said purpose to start conversations about things that we cannot afford to continue ignoring. Well, I suppose we could afford it, but some can’t, and that’s the whole point. So go to www.freederekwebb.com and download these eleven outstanding songs, and be challenged to help the poor, follow the Spirit, and love unconditionally.