CD Review of The Ringing Bell by Derek Webb
Recommended if you like
Owsley, David Mead, Matthew Sweet
INO Records
Derek Webb: The Ringing Bell

Reviewed by David Medsker


lthough he is no doubt extremely proud of it, the last thing you should probably know about Derek Webb is that he’s a Christian artist. Christians may be doing a bang-up job infiltrating our nation’s school curriculum, but the upper echelons of the pop charts are as godless a place as you’re likely to find. For once, that is a pity, because Webb’s latest album, The Ringing Bell, is a nifty secular guitar pop record with none of the schmaltz that sabotages most contemporary Christians’ attempts to cross over to the pop market. Plus, you have to love a guy who puts in his liner notes, “I wholly support and encourage the free distribution and consumption of music. Please share this record.” Yes.

Beatlemaniacs, take note: Webb is one of you (ahem, us), and The Ringing Bell is loaded with love notes to the Fab Four. “Name” begins with a ringing, “Paperback Writer” guitar line, then sports a vocal melody straight from Squeeze’s playbook (Difford and Tilbrook were called the New Wave Lennon & McCartney, so it’s close enough for jazz), and the melancholy “The Very End” owes a small debt to “Golden Slumbers.” “I for an I” sports a couple Beatle flourishes, from the wink-wink “Strawberry Fields Forever” reference in the keyboard line to the Harrison-esque slide guitar work.

There are other notable influences here, but it is not a coincidence that those influences are artists that also admire the Beatles. “A Love That’s Stronger Than Our Fear” sounds like a lost track from Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend sessions, cleaned up for the God squad. “Can’t Be Without You” is the best song the Pernice Brothers never did, and while we’re talking power pop, holy Owsley, Batman. “I Wanna Marry You All Over Again,” which has the hilarious line “I wanna court you on the record label’s dime,” could easily have come from Owsley’s debut album. Curiously, Owsley makes most of his money as Amy Grant’s touring guitarist. The Christian circle, strangely, is complete.

In the interest of full confession, it should be noted that I had not heard of Webb before my publicist friend Monica dropped his CD in my mailbox. And as much as I love The Ringing Bell, Allmusic likes Webb’s other albums even more. If this is indeed the weakest album in Webb’s collection, then I need to head over to Amazon at once. Or maybe one of Webb’s fans will share his other albums with me. That’d be cool.

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