DEREK WEBB She Must and Shall Go Free (Inotof) 

“I am a whore I do confess/I put You on just like a wedding dress/And I run down the aisle/Run down the aisle/I'm a prodigal with no way home/I put You on just like a ring of gold/And I run down the aisle /Run down the aisle to You” 

These lyrics, taken off the chorus of “Wedding Dress” – the centrepiece of Derek (Caedmon’s Call) Webb’s debut solo album – have been a source of controversy amongst Christian music retailers purely for the use of the word “whore.” Without wanting to be facetious, may I suggest to these same retailers to ban the Bible also. Go and read Ezekiel 16 and you’ll know what I mean and you’ll also get a fair idea of where Webb is coming from. 

I can tell you that when I first heard these words sung, they cut to my heart and I broke down and wept, because I realized how much God loved me despite the whore, prodigal and bastard child that I am. How amazing is His grace indeed! And I praise the LORD that he has spoken through such a dedicated and gifted vessel as Webb. This is a message that must be shared abroad to all, Christian and otherwise.  

So yes, She Must and Shall Go Free is a concept album of sorts as Webb explores and meditates on what God requires from His Church, the Bride of Christ. And the Church is not a building or an organization but people who confess that Jesus is the Christ. People who have been called by God to be a holy people set apart for Himself. 

These eleven songs, whilst containing ostensibly difficult lyrics, are conveyed in the sophisticated alt-country folk-rock that Webb’s former band Caedmon’s Call parlayed into success within CCM circles in the last decade. Rest assured that this is no commercial venture but a labour of love and commitment to share the word placed on Webb’s heart by God. 

Webb’s difficulties in being heard even in the so-called safe territory of Christian Contemporary Music underline the dilemma faced by artists who passionately pursue the calling of God in their music. Rejected and marginalised by the mainstream rock scene, judged and ostracized by the CCM market, quite often these artists are the true indie alternative musicians out there in the unforgiving world of modern rock. 

But, kudos to Webb, for sticking to his guns and boy, does he shoot from the hip?!!  

No positive feel-good molly-coddling message here as Webb evokes the great prophetic voice of the late Keith Green in songs like “Nobody Loves Me” where Webb states his agenda unambiguously – “Well I’ll say words that rattle your nerves/Words like sin and faith alone, now,” “Saint and Sinner” which lays bare the reality of the Christian experience – “Well and it doesn’t get any better once you see the light/’Cause you wake to find that the fight has just begun/I used to be a damned mess but now I look just fine/‘Cause you dressed me up and we drank the finest wine/Oh yes we did,” and “Crooked Deep Down” which offers a brutal perspective on the human condition – “My life looks good I do confess/You can ask anyone/Just don’t ask my real good friends/‘Cause they will lie to you/Or worse, they’ll tell the truth/‘Cause there are things you would not believe/That travel into my mind/I swear I try and capture them/But always set ‘em free/It seems bad things comfort me.” 

The Church is of course Webb’s primary focus and that is where he gets in trouble as organized religion will always get in the way of God’s truth. The title track celebrates Christ’s sacrificial redemptive victory for His Bride – “Should the law against her roar/Jesus’ blood still speaks with power/’All her debts were cast on Me and she must and shall go free,’” “Nothing” acknowledges the crux of the relationship between Christ and His Bride – “I’ve got your works; and I’ve got my faith/I’ve got all the wine that you can make/Yeah I am the kiss of your betrayer/But I’ve got your grace on every layer/I’ve got everything; but I’ve got nothing/Without you” and of course the controversial “Wedding Dress,” where Webb sounds a warning – “Because money cannot buy/A husband’s jealous eye/When you have knowingly deceived his wife.” 

For the Christian who seeks a deeper revelation of God’s desire for His Church, Webb provides a hint of where you should be looking. For the alt-country music fan, Webb delivers as good an album that the genre has produced – name ‘em: Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Jayhawks, Whiskeytown – this plucky singer-songwriter deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. A truly impressive debut that augurs well for the music that is still to come. A+