In the mid-90’s I was introduced to a number of new bands by a college roommate. One of the bands, Caedmon’s Call, was unlike most other bands that were out at the time. Their music was an eclectic mix of acoustic, rock, ballads, and included both male and female lead vocals. Looking back at early Caedmon’s Call, I am not sure if the band was shaped by Derek Webb’s presence, or if Webb’s involvement in the band helped to shape him as the solo artist he would become. In either case, what I have seen from Webb over the past nine years has worked for me.
There are some artists who make a shift artistically, and leave you wondering what they were thinking. Webb, while continually stretching himself and reinventing his art, has always left me looking back thinking that he was able to pull off what few others would have been able to. Whether it was going from being a young man who didn’t sway too much from his Caedmon’s Call roots, in She Must and Shall Go Free, to a seasoned artist who isn’t afraid to take risks, as seen in Stockholm Syndrome and to a lesser extent this new album Ctrl, Webb doesn’t seem content with making music to just sell albums. He is an artist first, and a marketer second. Or, as Webb said himself several years ago in the song “Zeros Ones”, he’s “a prophet by trade and a salesman by blood.” Webb goes beyond entertaining his listeners, and his music encourages people to think. Few artists are able to pull this off, and Webb makes it into an even more elite club of artists who do it effectively.
Having spent a couple days with Ctrl now, I will say it is an album that will likely take a little time for some to warm up to. Webb returns to a more acoustic sound, while interweaving drum machine beats that were the driving force on much of Stockholm Syndrome. What is likely to take some people time to adjust to is the addition of Sacred Harp backing vocals. The addition, which at times is sampled, makes its way into most of the songs on the album. As one who was not familiar with Sacred Harp, at first listen the vocals seemed out of place and somewhat distracting. However, after a few times through the album I was coming around to enjoy the artistic addition.
Ctrl is best described as a mood album. From start to end the album has a tone it sets, that keeps me coming back for more. You can get a a three song sample of the album for free on Webb’s creation, Noisetrade.com, but I would encourage you to go to Webb’s website and spend nine dollars to experience the album in its entirety.