Music Review: Derek Webb, "Mockingbird"
Release Date: December 27, 2005
Label: INO Records
· Official Site
by R.J. Carter
Published: January 19, 2006
Every year, thousands upon thousands of singers vie for the attention of the public ear -- and that's not counting the spike brought on by the phenomenon of American Idol. Of them, hundreds will actually get a CD recorded, while a handful will actually make the charts. Of them, several have something to say with their music.
Throughout time, exactly three of them have had anything to say that was important for everyone to hear: John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash.
Write in the name Derek Webb to that list, and do it in pen. Not that Webb would agree, kicking off this heart-grabbing album with the title track, "Mockingbird":
And there's a lot of truth to be had in Mockingbird as Webb pulls no punches. In the words of Jack Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men": "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!" In fact, this line could easily serve as a first track verbal warning for those Christians who walk into this acoustic collection unprepared for the opening salvo Webb launches. After the self-deprecatory "Mockingbird" in which he claims he has nothing new to say, he dives right into the (and don't say you weren't warned) mocking tones of "A New Law":
Because I can't afford to pay
for most of what I say
So it's a lucky thing
that the truth's public domain
At this point, most hearers will be nearly paying attention, passing from hearing to actually listening -- just in time to be blown away with the things Webb has to say in "A King & A Kingdom" wherein he tells the audience where his first allegiance lies... and where it doesn't.
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
Don't teach me how to live like a free man
Just give me a new law
For those keeping score with the track listing provided, you'll notice I've not yet left the first three songs on this album. Usually I have to dig to find the gems in a review. With Mockingbird, the gems are hurled relentlessly at you, hitting their mark with every verse, every chorus, every bridge. I go back again to "A King & A Kingdom" and recall the way I felt the wind literally and emotionally knocked out of me as Webb wrapped up the song:
There are two great lies that I've heard:
"The day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die"
and that Jesus Christ as a white, middle-class Republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him
Comfortable Christians will find themselves squirming uneasily under Webb's lyrical scrutiny as he continually puts that which is Christlike up against that which is called Christianity. Attacking with the fervor felt recently in Todd Agnew's Reflection of Something, Webb constantly reminds us of what Christ taught and contrasts that to how we live, no less sharply than in "Rich Young Ruler":
But nothing unifies like a common enemy
And we've got one, sure as Hell
He may be living in your house
He may be raising up your kids
He may be sleeping with your wife
Oh no, he may not look like you think
"Sell all you have and give to the poor and follow me" is a message met with no less incredulity today that when Jesus first said it to the rich man in the New Testament. He followed the law, to the letter, but still wanted to know what more he had to do to be saved. One can imagine him responding the way the hearer does in Webb's song:
Poverty is so hard to see
When it's only on your TV
Or twenty miles across town.
Where we're all living so good
that we moved out of Jesus' neighborhood
I could go on. And on. Really, just buy the album and read the liner notes, and they'll speak for themselves far more stronger than I can merit them in this review. War, economics, capital punishment, politics -- and, of course religion -- all are ripe for the picking for Webb's cutting lyrics, delivered almost deceptively soft and unassuming. The sounds are gentle, but the words are cutting -- rose-petal razors that lure the listener in, making him want even more even when he's already hurting from the last set.
We speak the language and we keep all the rules
Even a few we made up.
"Come on and follow me,
But sell your house, sell your SUV,
Sell your stocks, sell your security
And give it to the poor."
What is this? Hey, what's the deal?
I don't sleep around, and I don't steal!
There has been neither an album nor an artist with such a striking message in decades. Derek Webb is a name to be reckoned with, a musical philosopher who will either soften or harden your heart -- all of which depends on how you choose to react, neither of which changes the truth heard. Thank God there are a few love songs in there to his wife to allow us to collect ourselves, to steel ourselves for the next wave.
Derek Webb - Mockingbird
02. A New Law
03. A King & A Kingdom
04. I Hate Everything (But You)
05. Rich Young Ruler
06. A Consistent Ethic of Human Life
07. My Enemies are Men Like Me
08. Zeros & Ones
09. In God We Trust
10. Please, Before I Go
11. Love is Not Against the Law