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Ampersand EP

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Apr
Ampersand EP
Sounds like … the acoustic pop and alt-folk of Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken, reminiscent of Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Ron Sexsmith, Julie Miller, Elliot Smith, and Mindy SmithAt a glance … though not quite on par with their typically excellent solo projects, the Ampersand EP finds Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken doing what both of them has always done best—beautiful and thought-provoking alt-folk/acoustic pop—only this time, they're doing it togetherTrack Listing Valentine When the Summer's Gone Watch Your Mouth When the Lights Go Out If Not for You My Finest Misfortune

Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken have written songs for each other, performed together, and made the ultimate collaboration as husband and wife with the recent birth of their son. But writing songs together has been a challenge for this couple because of their different writing styles. McCracken accurately describes herself as "abstract and conceptual," while Webb tends to be more "meticulous and intentional." As with any strong relationship, however, things came together naturally with time, and this little Ampersand EP represents the first fruits of their newfound artistic collaboration.

The 6-song, 23-minute project more or less plays out as fans would expect—a generally low-key recording that celebrates the highs and lows of a loving relationship. Those not already familiar with both Webb and McCracken will find them similar enough in their alt-folk/acoustic pop styles. Even so, a few tracks could pass as solo material and we'd be none the wiser. "When the Summer's Gone," the EP's most accessible cut, resembles McCracken's other rootsy pop songs a la Sheryl Crow, using the seasons as metaphors for the ups and downs of marriage. Likewise, in sound and lyric, "Watch Your Mouth" feels like a lost track from Webb's The Ringing Bell—what initially seems like another one of his songs about conflict resolution is really about love through happiness and anger.

Then again, maybe the songwriters sound similar enough to where the collaboration is subtle. "My Finest Misfortune," for example, seems to combine Webb's alt-folk sound with McCracken's more abstract lyricism about weathering the bad with the good (a recurring theme, if you hadn't noticed): "To the one who's broken, the one who's lost, and waiting for some comfort/Wisdom speaks in the darkest parts, but few can understand it/She gives and she takes it away/The sun and the moon, the sky and the rain/Her love is just the same."

Songs like "Valentine" and "When the Lights Go Out" sound more collaborative with Webb and McCracken intertwining their voices in unison and harmony. Ironically, it's their simple acoustic cover of Bob Dylan's "If Not for You" that sounds sweetest of all—these two could follow his example in writing a straightforward love song of their own. Not that the rest of Ampersand isn't well-written, and though it doesn't offer anything explicitly spiritual, you wouldn't necessarily expect such here. Consider it a side project from two artists doing more of what they do best: beautiful, thought-provoking music. Only this time, they're doing it together.

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