july 2009

Tommy Webb
Rural Rhythm

Slowly but surely, Tommy Webb is rising to the upper echelon of young bluegrass singers, and no wonder. His clear, ringing tenor is as soulful and emotive an instrument as any around, and his material, some of it self-penned, plumbs the essence of love's melancholic side in stark, vivid terms, while also engaging the day's issues. Produced by Ron Stewart (currently a member of Dan Tyminski's band, with a hitch in J.D. Crowe's band on his resume as well), Heartland, so aptly named, finds Webb, on his third album, demonstrating a command of vocal nuance more common to a seasoned veteran, in addition to simply asserting his sturdy presence on each song through the depth of feeling he imparts. One of the rare celebratory moments here, via Webb's own hard driving love song, "Everything You Do," offers a wonderful showcase for the terrific musicians supporting him, especially Chris Goble, whose steady rolling banjo licks set an eager pace throughout behind Webb's enthusiastic vocal extolling the many wonders of the woman he falls deeper in love with every day. Going for more of a western swing feel in the lilting "Something In My Heart," Webb recounts the debilitating ache his gone gal has bequeathed him in the wake of her departure, as Stewart's mournful fiddle and Resonator guitar provide the tear-stained backdrop. His self-penned album opener, "Teardrop Inn," a midtempo reflection on betrayal complete with bloody revenge fantasies and some gallows humor to boot—"There won't be no cold Budweisers where you're goin'," the aggrieved wife cries to her philandering hubby—rather sets the tempo lyrically for what's to come, as more songs than not examine the detritus of love's collapse. On the topical front, the brisk, strutting title track is a bald-faced appeal to "Mr. President" to stand up for the working class, and save the heartland from becoming "a barren wasteland." Pleading with the President to "think about the future and our kids," Webb also takes a swipe at rapacious Wall Street bankers while urging the Senate and House to whip the money changers into shape. Over a bristling fiddle and a hard-strummed acoustic guitar in "A Hard Row to Hoe" (co-written by Ricky Skaggs and James Rushing), Webb digs into an unapologetic account of the farmers' plight, an ongoing struggle to survive in the face of trade embargoes and mounting surpluses; the rough edge on his vocal only adds to the urgency of a message that can't be delivered too often. A moment of real growth in a promising career, Heartland finds Tommy Webb thriving amidst romantic misadventures and social conscience. —David McGee 

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
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