Sunday, October 12, 2008

True Playah

It's not often that I devote this much space to a record review, my usual method of music acquisition involve a frenzied search through music blogs like Gimme Tinnitus, Sheena Beaston or places like this and scavenging what free singles they have to offer. I am like a mendicant monk, accepting only what the flow of karma and the beneficience of bands allow into my crude wooden bowl.
So it was with some trepidation that I purchased the latest album by Joe Webb. What effect would this crass gesture of commercialism have on my place on the karmic wheel? Would this action cause me to be reborn as a Creutsfeldt-Jakobian prion in the vast wastelands of Britney Spears left Temporal Lobe? Do prions have souls? If so, where do they stand in the heirarchy of the afterlife? Is it better to be reborn a prion or an AIDS virus? Would this album suck? All of these questions crossed my mind as I downloaded Cross Country.
In the interests of transparency, I must admit that Joe Webb is not a stranger to me. Joe was a key player in my failed student presidential bid back at UM Augsburg campus. Joe was also almost responsible for my early demise as it was his elbow which caused me to fall from the window sill I was perched on while electioneering (in his defense he also pulled me back into the aforementioned window). I narrowly lost the election (53% to 45%) through no fault of Joe's. Perhaps I shouldn't have run on the "case of Schlitz in every dorm fridge" platform.

Cross Country by Joe Webb

From the opening bars of Joe's arrangement of Fiddy's "In Da Club" you can hear the depth of thought that has gone into this record. It could have been just a novelty item, existing in the virtual space of the itunes record shelves somewhere between Wierd Al's ouevre and the twisted humour of bands such as Ludichrist but the sincerity in Joe's voice prevents any such classification. It's a bold move to open with this song, any one with a radio has heard this track since it's release in '03 and anyone with a brain has since grown tired of hearing Fiddy's half literate attempts to string two words together. Despite the source material this cover shines. The fiddle which underscores the lyrics sounds like it belongs in a Hank Williams song of remorse and sorrow and so it is a surprise to hear the bright vocals announcing where Joe and Fiddy can be found. Joe brings out the inherent simplicity in this song, reveling in it's nursery rhyme structure. It is due to the lightness of the melody that the lyric's meanings are brought to the fore.
In the next track Joe extends some "Southern Hospitality" to his listeners via Ludicris' '00 hit. Joe's melancholy voice is a delightful counterpoint to the boastful and arrogant lyrics.
Track three is Jermaine Dupri and JZ's "Money Ain't A Thing" dropped over an urgently picked bluegrass melody. You can hear the two rapper's trying to one up each other lyrically as Joe manages to cram the dense lyrics into three mintes and fourteen seconds (a minute shorter than the original).
Lil' Flip's '02 single, "The Way We Ball" is given the Webb treatment next as Joe snarls out the lyrics to this 3rd Coast anthem. I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with this track before this review and had to scramble to find it on youtube and am listening to the original as I write this so I don't have a lot of insight regarding Lil' Flip's intentions. Just know that you wil be humming Joe's version whenever you ball.
Every playah knows this next track, DMX's "Ruff Ryder's Anthem", originally dropped in 1998 over a faux Wu-Tang beat. Joe's lush arrangement calls attention to the anthemic qualities creating a footstomper that you won't be forgetting soon.
JZ's "I Just Wanna Love U" sounds so sweet under Joe's hand, like something you would play for your girl after you had a terrible fight about something. Careful you don't accidentally pop it into your next mixtape for your honey, the lyrics are raw but sound oh, so good.
Biggie's "Big Poppa" bounces next, Joe has removed all traces of the over sampled g-funk of the original and given us a new way to looka at the Notorious B.I.G.'s lyrical excellence. Joe has manged to remove all of the menace and anger from the track without even cracking a grin. If this is satire, then it is deadpan.

To sum up, Cross Country by Joe Webb is an excellent reimagining of some of the seminal moments in recent music history. It is available on itunes.