Exactly ten years ago, singer/songwriter Derek Webb looked at the state of the Church and declared that “she must and shall go free.” This year, he’s telling us all that he was wrong, he’s sorry, and he loves us.
But contradicting himself, he is not.
In the decade since his departure from Caedmon’s Call, Webb has released eight solo studio albums. However you want to slice it, that’s a lot of music in a short amount of time. It also means Webb has had a lot to share with us as he’s matured and grown as follower of Jesus, a husband, a father, an observer, a consumer, and an Earthling just trying to process and figure stuff out. During that time, he’s crafted songs about the Church, modern day Pharisees, sexuality, race, social justice, and those who’d never think of setting foot in a place of worship. Never one to be confined to one musical style, his albums have ranged from folk and bluegrass to pop-rock to electronica to soft acoustic.
“It’s been twenty years since I rose and cleared my throat,” Webb sings in the opening line of the new album, a nod to his two decades in the professional music scene. “And over all these years, just three things I’ve tried to say,” he pleads before belting into the title track’s confessional.
“I am the man from which I am running, so even if I wanted to, I can’t escape,” Webb soon thereafter blares out in the hooky, up tempo “Eye of the Hurricane,” a song he describes as the most personal song he’s ever written.
I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You is a shedding of layers; a strip-down to the essence of what Webb has been trying to get at since he first picked up a guitar or sang a note. Webb describes the album as “a reckoning with the guy I am as opposed to the guy I wished to be at different seasons of my career.” Most tracks fittingly include little more than a guitar and some light percussion or piano thrown into the mix. As an added bonus, a few even include background vocals by Sandra McCracken, Webb’s wife and an accomplished singer/songwriter in her own right.
McCracken’s contributions to the new album can be heard most clearly on “I Measure the Days,” an Anglican chant inspired by the style of worship at their church. “I think life is liturgical in many ways,” Webb says. “My very first week at my church, when we chanted one of the Psalms in that way, I was just so drawn to it. And then Sandra wrote this poetry that we sang to that melody. It’s a beautiful piece of music.”
A delicate string arrangement accompanies Webb’s acoustic guitar work in “Everything Will Change” like two lovers entwined in a tender melodic dance. The lyrics, which could easily be considered a follow up to those of “This Too Shall Be Made Right” from 2007’s The Ringing Bell, remind us that “one day you’ll wake and the curse will break and even you won’t be the same.”
Speaking of follow ups, I Was Wrong contains the third song Webb’s written over the past decade titled “Lover.” Part one, off his first album, describes the attributes of Jesus. Part two, he claims, was “very abstract and mysterious, heavier on the poetic side.” It wasn’t until the third installment about the Father that Webb says he noticed “the heavy connection of ‘Lover, part two’ to the Spirit” and realized for the first time that each song represented a different member of the Trinity.
Throughout his career, Webb has shown a unique lyrical penchant for asking tough questions, issuing harsh challenges to the Church, and at times, using taboo language to illustrate his points. In “Wedding Dress,” a song from 2003’s She Must and Shall Go Free, Webb refers to himself as a “whore,” a word the Bible itself uses dozens of times to describe the rebellious and adulterous nature of the Church. “What Matters More,” from 2009’s Stockholm Syndrome, generated so much controversy over Webb’s use of the word “shit” that many retailers of Christian-based products refused to carry the album.
Given the controversial nature of some of his past work, Webb also sees I Was Wrong as an opportunity to reconnect with those he may have unintentionally alienated or offended over the years. “I would hope people would see what I’m ever saying over the last ten years as building upon the story we’ve written together in these songs,” he says. “But I felt it was time to restate some things just so we’re resonating with one another. This record is me thinking about the questions I was asking that led to my first record.”
Webb, who openly disavows placing his music into any finite consumer category, states that “the word ‘Christian,’ when applied to anything other than a person, is a marketing term.” His honest and refreshing tell-it-like-it-is approach to songwriting sets him apart, allowing, and I daresay, freeing him up to instead simply function as a “musician who happens to be a Christian,” rather than a generic “Christian musician,” a title slapped like an assembly line factory tag on so many of his contemporaries.
Webb is also the co-founder of NoiseTrade, an online platform where artists can share their music through embeddable widgets in order to gain new listeners and build a community of fans. Listeners can share the widgets of their favorite artists via social media and don’t have to pay a penny (though online donations to the artists are gladly accepted).
I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You will be released on September 3rd. Pre-orders and music videos from the new album are now available at DerekWebb.com. The aptly-named “Apology Tour” kicks off on September 26th in Philadelphia, PA.
Alan Atchison is a Contributing Writer to The Rogue. He is a Senior Publications Editor at the Center for the Advanced Study of India (University of Pennsylvania), where he also earned a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing. He lives in Philadelphia, PA with his wife and two daughters. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.