04.10.2009

I’m surprised, upon a quick look back over TLB, that I’ve never posted about Derek Webb before and I’ve only mentioned him a few times in passing, since he’s one of my favorite songwriters. That makes it ironic, too, I guess, that this first time I post about his music, he won’t be the focus. Ah well.

After listening multiple times through The Book of Secrets this past week in my car, I switched it out for Mockingbird, Derek Webb’s fourth solo album, since I realized I hadn’t listened to anything of his for a while. Each one of his solo albums is in a completely different style than the others, and this one has a stripped-down, simple, house-recorded feel to it (I guess because it is all of those things). In recording the album, the band did very few overdubs (recording multiple times through a song on the same instrument, or a similar one), resulting in simple instrumentation and little reworking or extra production. It’s not a sound I could listen to all the time, but I do enjoy it on this album.

What caught my attention this time through, as it has several times before, is the piano playing by Cason Cooley. On Derek Webb’s previous album I See Things Upside Down, Cooley mostly played keyboards that did a bunch of crazy things, but on Mockingbird it’s almost all straight piano. What I love about his playing is that oftentimes it’s very simple, almost too simple, and yet with a few notes he’s able to create a memorable riff or accompaniment pattern that fits perfectly with the style of the song. On track two, “A New Law,” the piano provides the primary motion of the harmonic accompaniment as well as the main riff of the song–and all Cooley is doing is arpeggiating root position triads in a certain way. For “A King & A Kingdom” (track three), he does the same thing with even fewer notes: he starts by playing a held octave, then a major seventh (moving the bottom note of the octave up a half step), then a few descending notes before returning to the octave. Incredibly simple, yet along with the drums it sets the mood for the whole song. And his playing is in a similar vein all throughout the album. The Romantic composer Johannes Brahms once said, “It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.” Cooley is a performer who knows how to leave the superfluous notes behind and make the most of the ones he keeps. I wish I could play so well.

You can listen to “A New Law” and “A King & A Kingdom” courtesy of Last.fm by visiting their respective links and clicking on the black play button in the player on the right side of the page.

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