Ampersand EP Review (Derek Webb & Sandra McCraken) ~ BitterSweetLife

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ampersand EP Review (Derek Webb & Sandra McCraken)

Derek Webb & Sandra McCraken Ampersand EP

A guest post by Timothy Zila


This is going to be a very simple review because the Ampersand EP is a very simple project. Derek Webb is an artist making music far beyond the boundaries of the two basic staples of Christian Music--a selection of Psalms re-written in plain English--and love songs to X girl re-written as love songs to Jesus. Sandra McCraken is a fairly unknown but respected country/pop crooner. They’re married . . . and we knew they were gonna make music of some sort together eventually. And, in this case, that music seems to be mostly McCraken’s--with Webb lending his voice.

The only screwball here is opening track “Valentine,” a song that (for few discernible reasons) sounds a little different than anything Webb or McCraken have done before and is notable if only for that fact. From there it’s all country/folk/pop B-sides. “When the Summer’s Gone,” “If Not for You,” and “My Finest Misfortune” (half of the EP) aren’t bad but they’re the kind of underwhelming filler that gets hidden away three-fourths of the way through an album or eventually ends up on some unnecessary B-side collection. (And is it even vaguely necessary for me to use the adjective “unnecessary” when talking about B-side and rarities albums?)

There are two gems here, however, that are enough to make you hope the EP will end up on iTunes. [Editor: It has.] “When the Lights Go Out” is a typical love song which quickly blossoms into the album’s most passionate piece. It’s also oddly dense and claustrophobic--a banjo and piano repeat their respective parts over and over again to the rhythmic loop of a woman (possibly McCraken) harmonizing somewhat ominously in the background.

The best song, though, is the previously unreleased Derek Web track “Watch Your Mouth.” “We could start again/We could let down our defenses/These days/I mostly watch your mouth/When I don’t know what you are saying . . . Oh a family isn’t family/That doesn’t know your name/That doesn’t want to stay with you/Until the very end,” Webb sings straining to make his voice reach high enough to match that of his wife, singing in the background.

If the rest of the album was half as full of emotion and earnestness as those two tracks, then Ampersand would be what fans of both artists should hope for: a passionate project from a husband and wife singing songs they care about together. As it is, the Ampersand EP is pretty much what you probably expected--B-sides with a few worthy songs placed, perhaps, only to justify the project’s existence.

[Timothy Zila is a critic for Patrol Magazine. One day he’s gonna capitalize on all the great blog urls he’s stolen from more worthy individuals. wasn’t taken before I got it?!? Come on people!]

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