Derek Webb's She Must and Shall Go Free is more than an album: it's a visionary, unapologetic challenge pointed at the church. The message is this: accept the Gospel alone as our source of spiritual fulfillment and stop seeking after earthly substitutes for truth.
This album is already generating its share of controversy over its "extreme" statements, but I really don't see what the all the fuss is about. Don't get me wrong -- I'm sure there will be plenty of complaining, but most of it will come from those who are deeply mired in the way of life that Webb is crying out against. And yes, there are a few word selections here and there that will make prudish listeners bristle (more than one song calls the church a "whore" -- but any good theologian knows that this is the same metaphor utilized in the book of Hosea), but all in all, it seems to me that Webb is simply sharing the convictions that have been placed on his heart. I don't hear anything particularly scandalous here, aside from the fact that he's saying out loud many of the things we've all thought privately. Namely, that the church, which is intended to be set apart, holy, as Christ's Body, is instead filled with too many self-involved, pretentious people who prefer earthly pleasures over the glory of Christ's sacrifice.
These words, from "Wedding Dress," perfectly sum up the album's message: "...I am so easily satisfied / By the call of lovers so less wild / That I would take a little cash / Over Your very flesh and blood". Other songs touch on similar themes: the dichotomy between the good that God's grace places within us and the wretchedness that is born in our hearts ("Nothing (Without You)" with its killer blues groove, the folkabilly "Saint and Sinner," the rollicking "Crooked Deep Down"); Christ's command to take His message to all the world, which we often fall short of in our daily lives (the great "Take To the World," which features a guest spot by Dan Haseltine); and all the ways in which the church loses itself in false pursuits ("Awake My Soul," the beautiful "Beloved," the title track). Fittingly, he begins the album by declaring himself a "dangerous crusader" who's not backing down no matter how anyone else feels (the clever "Nobody Loves Me"), and ends by poignantly reminding us that we can't truly love God with our whole hearts if we don't love the church, too ("The Church").
Musically, if you've heard Caedmon's Call, you'll know what to expect here. However, Webb leans more toward the bluesy side of folk music, distancing himself from Caedmon's more pop-reliant folk. Listening to these songs, it's easy to hear and remember his influence on earlier Caedmon's Call albums, because it's all in plain sight.
But the most memorable thing about She Must and Shall Go Free is the audacity with which Webb freely discusses topics that most Christians would consider strongly distasteful. Such profound revelations and convictions don't come along every day, so I'm inclined to think we should give Derek Webb our complete and undivided attention.
Album cover courtesy of INO Records.
By Robert Parrish