(5 / 5)
The voice. The voice. No, not that TV talent show with the spinning red chairs and the mad as a box of frogs Will.i.am. No, I am talking about the discovery of one of the best female voices I have laid ears on in a very long time.
Introducing Ms. Wendy Webb and her mahoosively gorgeous album, “Step Out Of Line.” She certainly cannot be accused of dong that across this inspirational 10-track gem. See what I did there? The uber-talented American singer-songwriter has a crystal clear purity and a soothing delivery; her tone lends itself to be compared to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and for me, Judy Collins, in timbre and tone. And in sheer quality and class, too.
Shivers down the spine time on every track. I cannot believe I had not heard any of her music before this release, and I read in the PR blurb that she has dropped four albums ahead of this one. I shall definitely be dipping into that back catalogue, pronto.
Who is she? An Iowa girl, from a big family who owned an old upright piano. Dusty Springfield’s voice coming over the radio airwaves lit the flame inside Wendy, to pursue singing as a career. Her Dad bought her the Dusty record and a guitar, and her Mum got her a Joan Baez songbook of classic English ballads. Ms Wendy taught herself to play guitar and piano.
After leaving home, spinning Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell albums further emphasised a burning desire to be a singer. After a move to L.A, Wendy ran into Joni Mitchell’s engineer, Henry Lewy, who offered her studio time and some valuable mentoring. This was a gift in her apprenticeship and learning curve as a recording artist. She now lives on Sanibel Isand, Florida and has performed across the USA, Cuba, Paris and more.
The new record gives us nine original songs, plus a haunting electric piano rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘Girl From The North Country’, a stunning tribute that pays homage to her Midwestern roots. The album was written in Nashville, and recorded in a private house in Music City with her co-writer and producer Mark Keller, and a stellar cast of Nash Vegas’ major league players. Legendary musicians Wayne Jackson (R.I.P.) of the Memphis Horns, David Grissom, Mark T Jordan, Willie Weeks and Dan Dugmore were on the team. As it was a house in town, busy studio session players stopped by after their day sessions to play on what Wendy originally thought would be “artful demos”.
But when she heard fabulous moments such as Wayne Jackson, founding member of the iconic Memphis Horns, blowing a stunning trumpet solo on the title cut, in the living room. Sax legend Jim Horn blowing the house down on ‘Destiny’s Muse’, in the dining room, she began to realise that these were far from just demo sessions. Wendy sang and played piano on Dylan’s ‘Girl From The North Country’ live in the living room and Dan Dugmore added the blissful pedal steel solo. It really was a case of “Wendy’s in da house” and she’s brought along some fabulous house guests too!”
it is ‘a given’ that the musicianship is top drawer and her vocal really is something very special. Had the material been “good”, these master craftsmen (and woman) could have sprinkled some magic dust on top and probably made good songs into very good songs. As it is; the material would stand up on its own in raw voice and guitar/voice and piano format, of that I am positive.
Even before the guys got hold of the charts and got to grips with the mysterious and unique Nashville numbers system (Google it!) and graced the tracks with their skills. But this is Premier Division song writing. Add to that a glorious voice and faultless production-values, this has all the hallmarks of a winner indelibly etched into it, from the get-go.
Like the very best artists who lift words off the page and do not just sing ‘em, but make an emotional and spiritual connection between those words and you the listener, Wendy is a trader of the lost art; making it sound like she’s in the room with you, singing just to you and for you. Think of James Taylor and how he can do that on everything he sings. That voice, shivers down the spine, creating a rare intimacy.
Wendy Webb does that too. Seemingly with ease. Do not underestimate that art. Not one Nano-second where the feeling dips or tails off. Another thing I do not take for granted, having been reviewing music for nigh on four decades; is the art of assembling the tracks of an album in exactly the right order; so they fit together next to each other seamlessly, so the thing flows at the right pace.
Taking you on that journey as smoothly as possible. The quality control filter of what makes the final cut on a record and what you leave off, and the positioning of the tracks, can make or break the impact of an album for me. The difference between an ‘even listen’ and a bumpy ride; where you might want to fast forward now and again. None of that here. In these days of cherry-picking odd tracks for download and streaming, instead of listening to a full body of work as a complete album, that skill of track listing is perhaps not seen as important any more. Well, it is. Even though Wendy’s voice is a strong one, perhaps there is also a wee touch of fragility and vulnerability about it. Maybe it is her natural vibrato that does that.
As our venerable columnist Alan Cackett discusses in his latest (March) column, “Off The Record with Alan Cackett,” this month (see our Features Zone), people bandy about the label “Americana” these days as often as Trump changes his mind about his policies, or “alternative facts” as we may like to call them. That label of “Americana” has been hung around this singer’s neck and been said about this album. For me; it is American, but not really Americana. It is not pure country and nor is it folk. Maybe this really is “World Music.” It is music, of course, and it truly deserves to be heard worldwide. She knows exactly who she is and there’s no hint of trend chasing or being dictated to by the suits. File under “wow”.
Track four, “Destiny’s Muse” is achingly beautiful. Lump in the throat time, prompted by that emotion-soaked vocal and the weeping pedal steel part. A stunning song and vocal performance to match. The steel and sax licks are the icing on a very moreish cake. The sparseness of the production values, with Wendy’s vocal sat on top of just the electric piano, is spot on. The following cut, “Mexico,” is very Joni – another electric piano cut. Such an innately sweet vocal.
“Camden Town” is Sheryl Crowe territory. A ditty about London’s trendy and hippy Camden market. I love that place and have lost myself there for many hours over several decades of visiting. The harmony vocals are sublime. It’s got a bit of a Neil Young ‘Harvest Moon’ vibe to it. Cracking track with some lovely grunged-up West Coast guitar licks from David Grissom. A song she re-visits from her “Moon On Havana” album, and extends the running time for this version and a fatter arrangement.
Wendy’s previous album was called “This Is The Moment”. I think that title actually sums up this record better. Not so much a job, as a calling; you can really hear that here. I know that us music writers can get a tad verbose sometimes, and prone to gush once in a while; urging readers to “grab a copy now….”. But this really is an album that needs to be heard by many. When you hear it, you can thank me later…
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’