Dustin Kensrue: The Water and the Blood

Release Date: September 30, 2013

I came across Dustin Kensrue and his new album The Water and the Blood in a bit of a strange way – given that it was right under my nose. I was watching some video on YouTube and saw the thumbnail for Dustin’s “It’s Not Enough” as a recommendation. I watched it and was blown away. I made some contacts, got my hands on the record, and even got to chat with Dustin for an interview that will soon be posted.

Dustin is the lead singer of the rock band Thrice, who I knew by name, but had never listened to. The band is currently on hiatus as Kensrue has joined the staff of Mars Hill Church as one of their worship leaders. If you aren’t a part of the church scene, Mars Hill is maybe a new model for you – they have live music at each of their 14 campuses and then project video of the week’s sermon from pastor Mark Driscoll, as though you were in a movie theater. It’s becoming more and more common.

Based in Seattle, Mars Hill has birthed several bands including Citizens and Ghost Ship. Their music is very progressive, indie rock and this album is no exception. I will say, however, that I’ve enjoyed it far more than what I’ve heard from either of the bands listed above.

Kensrue’s album is a good blend of indie and alternative rock that is both melodic and emotive. As in his earlier work with Thrice, the music that he crafts is complex in both its tone and lyrics. In short, it’s not the typical worship record you would find from the Passion crowd.

In my opinion, some songs on the record seem better suited to group participation than do others. For his part, Dustin says that “It’s Not Enough” is the only non-church song in the bunch. The best choices for audience engagement are “Rejoice”, “Rock of Ages”, and “My One Comfort”. A how-to and an acoustic version of “Rejoice” have already been released as a means of bringing it down to the everyday level. While I enjoy the pacing and melody changes on the classic “Rock of Ages” (one of my favorite hymns), I don’t like the idea of adding new lyrics to these songs for the sake of giving them a more modern verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure.

Two tracks rise far above the rest. The aforementioned “It’s Not Enough” is a great listen and a visceral yet simple video. It’s a great transition from the artist persona to the worship leader. It is filled with passion and emotion. The other big winner is “Suffering Servant”, a song with lyrics lifted almost word-for-word from Scripture – that alone is no little feat. Again, the personal conviction shines through the vocal performance. (And I may be alone on this, but the verse reminds me of the Paul Revere & The Raiders classic, “Indian Reservation.”)

The only shortcoming for me on this record is “God is Good.” It begins well and has a great melody, but the chorus comes off a little corny to me (God is good / all of the time / all of the time / God is good). And it’s not so much that it’s a kind of hokey, cultural phrase that bothers me. It’s more the feeling that they just mailed it in on the chorus.

When I listen to music like this, I’m usually looking for that “transferability” factor. Can someone at a church in the middle of nowhere transfer these songs to their situation? The answer here is yes and no. Normally that bothers me, but this album is so good that it really stands alone as not needing to translate into a corporate setting. It’s just a great listen and if it guides the individual listener to look at God afresh, then I think it is a success.

Martin Smith: God’s Great Dance Floor Step 02

Release Date: September 30, 2013

Former Delirious? frontman Martin Smith returns with a follow up to his album God’s Great Dance Floor: Step 01 released earlier this year. This record, Step 02, continues the tradition that Smith has built over the last 20+ years and is a great compliment to the Step 01 album. Here, again, we find Smith working with a host of well-known collaborators including Hillsong’s Reuben Morgan, Michael W. Smith, and Matt Redman (who Martin will be touring with this fall). Also collaborating on the album are Smith’s daughter Elle-Anna and vocalist Sarah Bird who also appeared on Step 01.

While it may come across as more musically reserved than its predecessor, Step 02, seems to be a more lyrically rich experience – which is a pretty significant claim considering the great work that was found on the former. Many of the tracks on the record seem to sneak up on you and lull you in before exploding right in front of you. While there’s not much wrong with the album, a few tracks shine more brightly than others.

“You are My Salvation” leads off the album rather unexpectedly with a drum loop and Rhodes organ before adding live drums and bass on the second verse. It kicks into high gear 3/4 of the way through after string filled bridge. Similarly, “Great is Your Faithfulness” starts out with a very mellow mood that makes you think that it may be easily forgettable. Fortunately, less than a minute in, this unassuming track morphs into an explosive anthem.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was a song that I all but dismissed upon seeing its title. It turns out, however, that “Song of Solomon” is nothing of what I expected it to be. Smith has described it as the most intimate song he has ever written. It is a piano-driven cry of loving desperation. While it doesn’t have the flash and pizazz of most modern worship music, this song is a rare gift that exemplifies (as Gregg Matte once said) “a desperate dependence and a restful residence” in God.

As I said, there are no bad songs here. If I have any detractions, they are purely my personal taste. “Only Got Eyes” is a bit too “on the nose” for my liking. I don’t particularly care for leveraging common phrases and building songs upon them. On this record, Smith has recorded the Chris Tomlin version of the song that they collaborated on, “God’s Great Dance Floor.” As I mentioned when evaluating the Step 01 album, Smith’s previous take on this song – released there as “Back to the Start” – is a brilliant track, far superior to this shortened version. Finally, I loved Sarah Bird’s vocals on Step 01‘s “Waiting Here for You”. Her appearance here on “God is Coming” fails to take full advantage of her voice the way it was before and the song just isn’t as epic as the other.

All in all, it’s great to hear someone who has been making this type of music professionally for 20+ years continuing to do so with freshness. The album is as relevant to a corporate context as it is to a personal listening experience. And Martin’s voice is superb throughout. I can’t say that this album is in any way superior or inferior to its predecessor. Given the time, I’d love to listen to them back to back.  Offering Smith that hour and a half would surely be a deep experience of desperate hope that will not be disappointed.

Phil Wickham: The Ascension

Release Date: September 24, 2013

The Jason Mraz Effect… Jason Mraz. You know him – fedora loving, oft-times awkwardly goateed, nylon-string strumming, love song crooning, avocado farmer. You probably don’t know much about him because what you’ve heard didn’t impress you. But for nearly every mediocre, unexciting studio album he’s put out, he’s also released a live album and often a concert DVD. That’s where you’ll experience one of the most underappreciated talents in music performing a 30-minute long, halfway improvised medley to start off a show, or utilizing his background in theater to bust out an opera ad-lib mid-song. My point is this: some people are amazing live, but make really disappointing studio records. Such is the plight of Phil Wickham.

Several years ago I was ever so briefly introduced to the music of Phil Wickham through playing in my church’s band. Though some raved about him, I never felt too compelled to dig any deeper into his catalog. A year or so later, I stumbled across his Singalong (2010) album and was blown away. That live record is a testament to the artist’s songwriting, vocals, and corporate worship leading. I’ve worn that record out. Finding myself with a renewed interest, I went back and looked up some of my favorite songs in their original, studio form. And then it hit me: Phil Wickham is a victim of… the Jason Mraz Effect!!!

I typically won’t review music that I don’t like because I don’t want to just be down on someone. It’s hard for me, though, when I know what the artist can be, yet they fail to live up to their potential. As I listened to his latest record, The Ascension, I kept asking myself, “what would this sound like, live?” Which, really, is an unfair way to judge a record, but I just want so badly to enjoy it that I’ll go about it any way that I can.

Certainly, the “worship music” genre is a strange one. It can be difficult and delicate to balance art and approachability – especially when you are essentially telling the same story that’s been told for thousands of year. But at the end of the day, as a listener, I don’t want to experience a huge dichotomy between the studio and the live experience whether you’re a local church or a national recording artist.

Wickham offers up several really great songs here. The album opener, “The Ascension”, begins very reminiscent of his Songs for Christmas (2011). The song itself is a great introduction to the record. The corporate singalong standouts are “Carry My Soul”, “Glory”, and “Wonderful”.

You may recognize “Wonderful” from Wickham’s Singalong 2 record (2012). The song was a bit of a “sleeper” on that record but definitely grew on me over time. Its production on this album was so different that I was caught off guard when I recognized it halfway through the chorus. Overall, the production has something of a mid-90’s feel about it. Everything seems to be carefully dampened so as not to appear too emotive (a hallmark of Wickham’s live work).

Wickham is a very talented and complex writer. Perhaps the most “natural” track on the record is “Mercy”. Here you hear the most beautiful vocals layered on top of very simple instrumentation. While it doesn’t pack the high-energy punch that some of the other tracks do, I would have loved an entire with this style of production – leveraging the power of the studio without overwhelming the heart of the artist.

For his part, Wickham has offered an acoustic version of the record as part of a pre-sale on his own website. I don’t know if this is a whole separate set of recordings, or just the studio masters stripped of additional instrumentation. I would love to hear this version of the songs, but it always begs the question – why did anyone feel the need to offer that version of the songs or make that the official release to begin with?

Interview :: Chris Carrabba

Chris Carrabba is the lead singer of the bands Twin Forks, though he is probably most known for his work as Dashboard Confessional. He has also served as lead singer for Further Seems Forever at two different times during their tenure over the last 15 years. He is an artist whose music has left an indelible mark on my life and it was a great pleasure to speak with him about his new band.


Audio has been split into two parts. Part two appears further down the page.

Chris Carrabba Interview pt.1

answers have been minimally edited for the sake of clarity
Ryan: You’ve been really adamant – at least in a couple of interviews that I saw – about deflecting the spotlight away from yourself and onto your new band; even refusing to be billed as “Chris Carrabba and Twin Forks.” So, my question is, what does this band’s identity mean to you as someone whose personal identity has been so wrapped up in what you’ve done previously?

Chris: That’s a really good question. I guess a simpler way for me to answer that – and then you can tell me the question again and see if I got anywhere close the answer – is, my reasoning for doing it is [that] I’m really grateful for the fan base that built my career in the first place and I don’t want to trade on their loyalties by pulling a “bait and switch”, saying “you’re gonna have to like this because it’s that thing you were attached to previously.” So that’s the reason I decided I really wanted to try to [do it this way]. And I think the band is, frankly, really good. We survive on our own merit, despite the fact that many of us have been in other bands that were popular.

Ryan: Is there an element of “ownership” about that? Because I believe everybody probably kind of saw Further Seems Forever as something you were a part of, but then Dashboard Confessional wasyou.And then this is more of a collective, creatively maybe, even?

Chris: It is. I would say in this instance I wrote most of the songs mostly myself with some exceptions and I can name a few – “Cross My Mind” was a collaboration, “Kiss Me Darlin'” was a collaboration. It wasn’t exclusively my writing. The only reason it happened to be my writing over others on this go-round simply boils down to the fact that, I think, I kind of sussed out what we were very early on (or could be) and was able to zero in on it very quickly. Quicker, maybe, than the other bandmates were able to. And I feel really grateful that they were able to trust me to do that.

Then when it came to arrangements there was massive collaboration. As a matter of fact, the way we did it was I would write songs – and that’s not to say there was no collaboration on the ones I wrote “myself”. Jonathan [Clark] or Ben [Homola] would come into the room and go, “yeah, that’s not good,” or “oh, that’s great,” or “oh, hey hey, that line right there…” So, great “in the moment” criticism that really directed the songs.

And Jonathan produced the record, and so he’s heavily involved in the arrangement. And Ben co-produced the record with me and Jonathan, so it was a collaborative effort in every sense except that maybe I wrote the first pass in this sense. So, I [would] record the guitar riff and the vocal and we would listen to it and then all get in a room together and play it live. And we don’t only listen to it a few times you know in the hours between [when] I recorded it and when we got together in the garage.

The thing I love the best – and I’ve said it before, so at risk of repeating myself – is that I really wanted that element of a “live moment” to be preserved. So you can actually hear our reactions all over the record. You can hear me go “oot!” when Ben did a fill or “alright!” ’cause Jonathan did some sort of run or you know you hear all these great things. You hear laughing all over the tracks because somebody nearly got something fantastic and we all laughed. And we’ll go back and all listen and it was even better than we thought. And that’s all over the tracks. You know, we did go back and overdub, but it was essential for us to keep the live tracking as the centerpiece to what we would build around.

So, now that all being said, that was a long long answer to say that now as we’re writing going forward it’s become much more collaborative because everybody (with the touchstone of a finished record) can say “This kind of song is a Twin Forks song and this kind of song isn’t.” And I think that’s important for a band to have an identity. Now, you should be able to stretch far and wide within the identity that you set for yourself, but it is important to have your own identity – something you can hang your hat on and say “This is what our band is.”


Ryan: I think that identity kind of drives a bunch of these questions… You know folk and Americana music is kind of the en vogue thing right now. I wonder what brought you to this genre, given what we’ve heard from you in the past?

Chris: Well, I think what you’ve heard from me in the past was not me neglecting my influences (which are folk music, before punk rock or hardcore). I think, what they were was me wanting to use those influences, while not using the templates of the songs as the influence. A lot of what folk music is – and you can push these boundaries far and wide – but it is like a tradition. I guess there is, you know, a bit of a traditional template to the kind of songs. There’s Celtic and bluegrass, then there’s eventually folk and protest and I think even all the way up to punk rock there’s a direct lineage if you ask me.

So, it’s en vogue now, you’re right, but when I began this project… I mean, I just couldn’t have imagined (I think I could have believed it,but I just couldn’t have imagined) [that folk would be so popular]. There was a definitely powerful underground indie scene of folk that’s been long-running that I’ve been enjoying for a long time and felt a part of if even though the music I played wasn’t folk, necessarily. But it was acoustic-based and it was rooted in having grown up listening to folk music. But, I don’t know about you, but I would not have put money on the single biggest band in the world being a folk band. So, I don’t know if that’s good for us or bad for us. I just know that we love what we do.

Ryan: And I think that ya’ll bring something a little bit unique to it. I am hearing the traditional sounds, but also the Celtic sound that you mentioned and maybe even a little ’80s new wave in there?

Chris: Yeah, well, I’m never going to get away from The Cure too far. You know, those are some of the biggest influences that I had… these melodies that are so infused in your life and then song structures and things from years of listening to music, like the Talking Heads was such a massive influence on me growing up and, or “influence” wasn’t the right term. I didn’t know it at the time.

Bob Dylan, I remember, before I got into punk. The way I got into punk was an older kid told me “Listen to Operation Ivy,” and it changed my life. And the same thing happened in the back of a school bus. This kid said – and this is earlier than punk rock – he said “Hey, you like music?” And I said, “Yeah, I really like music.” He said, “Listen to Bob Dylan.” I didn’t know who Bob Dylan was, but because my mother had the record of his, I was able to dig in and had this like voracious appetite, you know. And at first, I was like “This is terrible.” But I kept listening because I thought that kid was cool. I was like, “That kidknows something. He knows something.” And eventually I cracked the code.

I remember listening to Fleetwood Mac and that became one of the most powerful influences in my life, even to my style of guitar playing. Not that I would put myself in his category, but the “travis picking” style Lindsey Buckingham does is the way I play, post-Dashboard. That’s a big influence on me too.

I think we’re playing this kind of music because it gives us an opportunity to – with very limited accoutrements (if you’ll forgive it) – to portray all the things that we’ve learned along the way. And I think that if you do that with like electric guitars or keyboards or stuff like that, you’re just trying to be flashy. You boil it down to just some hand-played instruments that aren’t electrified and can never be, it’s hard to over do it, you know. It’s almost impossible. It’s almost impossible not to be tasteful.

Ryan: And it allows the song to speak for itself, rather than the sound to necessarily define it.

Chris: Yeah, and I’ve had that… I’ve made that mistake before. I’ve had that song that I thought, “This is a pretty good song. ‘Cause once you get in there with all the stuff it will sound awesome” – and then that really doesn’t work.


Chris Carrabba Interview pt. 2

Ryan: As a professional musician for well over a decade – kind of turning the corner – what’s the difference between trying to launch a band now in 2013 versus where you were 15 years ago and trying to launch a band?

Chris: Good question. I mean, because we’re not trading on our names, it’s not too different. We’re playing really small rooms. We’re traveling in a van. We’re getting paid very little, if at all. So, in that regard, it’s a very similar thing.

On the other hand, we’ve got a loyal following, some of whom will be interested in this band. So that’s like a little leg up, I guess that we have. Although, maybe that’s a little like what I had coming out of Further Seems Forever and having some fans follow me.

But I’ll tell you, probably the biggest advantage we have is you’re speaking to me right now about my record. And that didn’t happen [until] well into my Dashboard career. [It wasn’t until I] had sold a lot of records, had sold a lot of tickets, before anybody really knew about me, [no one] really wanted to talk to me, or I had anybody that was really willing to say “Call this kid. He’s worth talking to.”

Ryan: Are you a “technology guy”? Are ya’ll leaning in on that? …I haven’t seen a whole lot of technology push from the band, proper. I’ve seen a lot of coverage: Rolling Stone, Billboard last week. Is that right?

Chris: Yeah, I mean, I’m feast or famine with that stuff. My bandmates are too, I think. I think we make certain mistakes that we should be more savvy about, like the week before going on tour we should just be blowing everything up. But instead, we’re spending hours in the garage trying to make sure we’re just that much better everyday so that  the people that are gonna come see us will want to invite their friends next time.

Ryan: So, this is where you’re at. This is your band. This is what you’re doing right now. As you set out on tour, what does the set look like? Are you playing any old material? Are you doing any cover songs? Are you solely honing in on this moment in your career or are you kind of building the setlist – because you are so new – with older material?

Chris: We do quite a lot of our songs – Twin Forks songs – because it is the internet and they age. In a sense we’ve done them a few times. They’ve gotten a lot of reviews and a lot of requests. We did a tour EP and that had four songs on it. Then we have this EP coming out which a lot of people have heard and that has five songs on it. So, there’s a good amount of songs that people know.

Then there’s covers. We’ve released a favorite song of mine from growing up by Hank Williams, called “I Saw the Light”. We just put it out for free the other day and we’ll continue to probably release a couple of more covers probably before or as the tour goes on. So we’ll do covers. I’ve always done covers in every band I’ve ever been in. I really love covers. It’s the closest I get to karaoke, I guess. I really love doing that stuff. It’s like that euphoric, “Anything could happen here! We could crash and burn.”

Ryan: So you’re saying “Don’t Stop Believing” is your closing song?

Chris: We did that in Further Seems Forever, if you can believe that. But, no, that’s not our closer in this band. And in regards to the Dashboard stuff – which people are wondering about whether we’ll play it or not. All I can say is, we don’t really plan to play it. We end up playing it, on occasion. I think those occasions are the ones [where] we really feel like we got… we really succeeded in communicating to the audience who Twin Forks is. As opposed to the other way around where we’re like “We’re not getting them quick [enough, play the hits].” (Please, please. I use that term knowing that we’ve never truly had “hits”, but we had some songs that moved the needle a bit.) So for me, if I had a rule of thumb, that’s kind of it. I do it, but I do it when the audience… well, where we’ve succeeded… if we’ve succeeded in proving ourselves to the audience as the band we are.


The band is on tour now and will be on the road through mid-December. They have a full-length album that should be making its way to us early next year and don’t miss their cover of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” available at American Songwriter. Keep up with their latest info on Facebook.

Twin Forks: EP

Release Date: Sept 17, 2013

Chris Carrabba and company (Suzie Zeldin, Jonathan Clark, and Ben Homola) are back with the official debut EP from their band Twin Forks – you may remember that they released a promotional “Tour EP vol. 1” earlier in the year. This release contains two of the previously released songs, along with 3 more originals and continues to define the band as bigger than its genre and more than the sum of its parts.

I’m going to keep this fairly brief, but there is a much bigger story to be told. Yesterday I had the chance to speak with Chris Carrabba, so check back tomorrow to dive a little deeper.

The album is bookended by the previously released material “Back to You” and “Scraping Up the Pieces.” It’s hard to be sure, but it sounds to me like these songs were re-mixed and re-mastered, but not re-recorded from their previous iterations. There are some noticeable enhancements, particularly the intro clapping on “Back to You” and opening cymbal crashes and vocal enhancement on “Scraping Up the Pieces,” but the performances sound the same.

Something We Just Know: To me, this is the most “Dashboard Confessional-sounding” song the band has released. (For the uninitiated, Twin Forks lead singer Carrabba is the man behind the long-running emo band Dashboard Confessional.) The arrangement begins very simply and quickly begins to layer on instruments and vocals. The choral effect created by the harmonies really makes this song.

Cross My Mind: Released last week via an official video, “Cross My Mind” almost sounds like it was made to be the soundtrack to a laundry commercial. There’s so much sunshine and joy in the melody that you can’t help but want to get outside and run in the meadow. Oddly the music element kind of stands at odds with the lyrics which are filled with longing, nostalgia, and maybe a little bit of regret.

Can’t Be Broken: This song seems to have the most traditional “folk/Americana” feel of all the material that we’ve heard thus far. Bouncing verses give way to traditional, bluegrass, “boom-chuk” choruses followed by harmonized vocal runs. The track reaches its heights in the bridge when Carrabba pushes into his upper vocal register and stretches his voice in that way we all love.

All in all, the Twin Forks EP is a satisfying listen. Hearing the band play, you know that they are more interested in having fun together and producing quality music than they are in pandering to radio or bending to the will of the genre. You’ll hear moments of inspiration, excitement and delight throughout the record as the band actually enjoys what they are doing. It usually takes years for an artist to achieve that freedom, so it’s great to see veteran artists trying something new without having to “play the game” of the music business.

The band is heading out on tour today and will be on the road through mid-December. They have a full-length album that should be making its way to us early next year and I have it on good authority that they may be releasing some more free cover song downloads in the coming weeks – don’t miss their cover of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” available at American Songwriter.

Artist of the Month :: Chris Carrabba

A master of re-invention, Chris Carrabba has led the moshing masses, voiced the unsung feelings of the emo-elite, and is now setting off down the road of mandolin-rich folk fantasy.

Let’s take a little trip in the DeLorean back to the late ’90s an revisit a scene that many missed but I was waist-deep in. Back then, Christian harcore/metal/emo/screamo bands were a dime a dozen and on a good Saturday night you could catch 5-6 of these bands for $5 cover in the gym of one of the more “progressive” local churches or (dare I say it?) a bar. Most of these bands never left their hometowns, but the best of the best were able to get national record deals through Tooth and Nail and their imprint label Solid State.

One such Solid State band, Strongarm, disbanded in 1998 but very quickly re-formed with a new sound and new vocalist (Carrabba) under the moniker “Further Seems Forever”. In 2001, they released their debut record The Moon is Down on Tooth and Nail. I saw this record around for years and never picked it up because I really had no idea what it was.

Between the band’s inception and debut, Carrabba had released his own solo album The Swiss Army Romance (2000) under the name “Dashboard Confessional”. Feeling a deeper personal connection to that project, he left FSF after recording The Moon is Down, to focus on Dashboard full time.

As Dashboard Confessional, Carrabba would go on to release six studio albums between 2000 and 2009 along with a live album from MTV Unplugged 2.0. The first two records featured acoustic performances by Carrabba. An EP (2002’s Summer’s Kiss) featured full-band arrangements of 4 previously released songs giving way to the full-length full-band outing A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar (2003). While I would say that the band arrangements featured on the EP and live record were good, A Mark, A Mission just felt over-produced to me.

2006’s Dusk and Summer still featured the full-band, but made great strides back toward the band’s sweet-spot. While the songs still felt a bit rushed, veteran producer Daniel Lanois was able to keep the passion of Carrabba’s vocals on tracks like “Stolen” and “Don’t Wait”. While the guest spot by Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz seems a bit odd on “So Long, So Long”, there’s not a lot to complain about on this record.

Carrabba’s return to solo acoustic performance on 2007’s The Shade of Poison Trees was welcomed, but ultimately fell flat. Most of the tracks felt forced and at barely over 30 minutes for 12 songs, I didn’t feel like I really got my money’s worth.

For his next effort, Carrabba decided he could have it both ways by releasing a 2-disc, deluxe version of Alter the Ending (2009). Each disc was performed with a full band, but the latter was all acoustic versions. Here’s the deal. I love this record… but only the acoustic takes. In my mind, “Even Now” and “No News is Bad News” are classic Dashboard tracks that deserve a place alongside his early work.

In 2010, he reunited with Further Seems Forever (who had disbanded in 2006). Following some live shows, they released their fourth studio album (second with Carrabba), Penny Black, in 2012. This was really my first exposure to the band. I think that if I had gotten into them back during their first run, I probably would have been a big fan. Given my deep connection with DC, however, FSF is really just an interesting side-note to me.

While out on a solo, acoustic tour in 2011, Carrabba released a covers album under his own name titled Covered in the Flood. The track list could certainly be considered obscure given what we had heard from him up to this point. This journey into roots, Americana, and folk music served as the spark for his latest creative re-invention.

Made up of Suzie Zeldin, Jonathan Clark, Ben Homola, and Chris Carrabba, Twin Forks has been called a “folk supergroup.” While the term may be a bit overdramatic, the result is a welcomed change of pace. While mandolins, banjos, and washboards may be en vogue these days, this group safely steers clear of the period attire and handlebar mustache scene. In many ways they inject a bit of ’80s new wave into their particular brand of folk.

Debuting at 2013’s South by Southwest Festival, the band caught many by surprise and won over a number of new fans. They may still be under the radar, however, owing to their intentional avoidance of their own previous celebrity (refusing to be billed as “Chris Carrabba and Twin Forks”). With a new EP on the way and a U.S. tour kicking off, they are sure to gain much more exposure.

Derek Webb: I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, & I Love You

Release Date: Sept. 3, 2013

I’ve gone down a number of roads already as it relates to this record. If you’d like to read a more “traditional” review, I would point you to what I wrote for FaithVillage.com

When it comes to art criticism, there are so many layers that you have to look at and music in particular is a peculiar beast. There’s the song itself – melody and lyrics. But beyond that, you have to look at production choices and instrumental arrangements. And I, for one, hate to pull a song out of its given context so then you’re looking at a song’s place on an album and the album as a whole. And even if you wade deeply into all of that, there’s still the caveat of authorial intent – both in what they meant the song to be and how they meant for you to experience it.

Derek has addressed really all of these concerns pretty explicitly (much of which you can learn about in the interview I conducted with him several weeks ago).

With all of that in mind, I have to say that I love these songs, but this is not my favorite Derek Webb record. I’ve said before that I really want to hear a “sonically homogenous” record – that is, all the songs having the same general tone. You hear a wide range of influence here from U2 (“I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You”) to Bob Dylan (“Heavy”) all the way to Marty Robbins (“The Vow”). In the same way, many of the songs harken back to earlier Webb albums – “Lover Part 3” (She Must and Shall Go Free), “Closer Than You Think” (The Ringing Bell), “Everything Will Change” (Mockingbird), “Heavy” (Ctrl).

I’ll never disrespect an artist for making art and going at it with a very thought-out intentionality. It’s clear that Webb is saying something with these choices. At it’s most simple, I think that message is two-fold: “This is who I am” and “We have more in common than you might think”. And the album clearly succeeds at this. My only issue here is my own personal preference. When an album makes big tonal leaps from song to song, it leaves me off balance, not knowing what to expect next. For me, this makes it harder to dig into the meat of the lyrics because I spend the first half of the song trying to regain my balance.

Fortunately, Derek has offered a collection of acoustic videos with accompanying commentary intros that really cut to the heart of the songs. For me, these tracks offer a purity of experience that allow the listener to dig into the multiple layers of meaning found in most of the tracks on the album. They are closer to the Derek Webb that I grew up with and they offer a common tone to songs that are so disparate on the record.

Beyond the artistic talk lies the true message at the heart of the record. On one hand it may be seen as Webb’s self-indictment and renewed commitment to live and love rightly. Yet, it may be seen as invitation for us all to examine ourselves and accompany him on the journey. As such, there is really no better way to summarize Webb’s 20 year career. Ever the agitator, he has always looked at things from a slightly different perspective, poked the proverbial “bear”,and  offered himself as the scapegoat so that his listeners may have the opportunity to find their own voice.

There are few artists that have been a part of my life as long as Derek Webb has. There are even fewer who have offered the kind of message that has effected my view of the world in the same way that he has. It’s for that reason that I have to look at this album as more than just a collection of songs. For me, Webb’s work has always said, “Here’s what’s next”, in terms of the way I look at the world – and the vision that he has presented here suggests an amazing journey ahead.