Brian Webb and Club Passim are a perfect fit

A review of Brian Webb at Club Passim on January 31, 2009

, Contributing Writer

Songwriter and singer Brian Webb came to Boston a number of years ago and, like many songwriters, spent years in the subways and then in the coffee shops and bars honing his songs and his performance skills. In that time he developed an eager audience for his songs, a mix of amiable confessions of fallibility and paeans to the higher nature of humanity. This audience came out to fill Club Passim, the legendary Cambridge folk music room, on Saturday night for a loose and genial set of songs.

Webb is comfortable with his audience, and he should be. For someone who plays twice a year in Boston, he has an amazingly tight crowd. Someone asked him for a song he’d played before about his grandmother. It was still unfinished, but he sang it, filling in the gaps with stories that set up the parts he’d written, making an amazingly intimate reading of a song in progress. The chorus, as I took it down, went like this:&

"It was all so good /Papa played the fiddle / So good / Oh, remind me, at the top of your lungs, / from the bottom of your heart, the sungs that you sung, /when you were a child / and arms opened wide / between shadows and doubts /Love carried you in, love carried you out."

The lyrics are intricate, and the melody that goes with them is not at all simple or obvious, and the song had been played in public once before, six months ago. Pretty much everyone in the room had been there, and remembered it, and sang it – a tight crowd, indeed. So it’s no wonder that Webb felt comfortable letting it be a loose night. Accompanied by the multi-talented fiddler Dylan Dean, he played a satisfying set of mostly new material, insterspersed with digressions about Ultimate Fighting (he’s a fan), his forthcoming new release (a child due in March) and anything else that came to mind. When it came to playing what might be called his “hit”, “Tobias”, the intro to the song was longer than the song itself, and never felt too long.&

Webb’s songwriting is solid, in an Indigo Girls mode: straightforward metaphors and true stories set to good tunes, confessional without the air of pretension that taints the similarly confessional mode of most of his songwriting generation. Years ago, the great songwriter Dave Carter observed that a great song must be at once personal and universal, that it must come from within the writer and resonate within the listener. Webb sems to have the knack of this sort of writing. His songs come out of his own arguments, his own relationships, and they echo our own. This can lead at times to a platitudinous touch in his lyrics, which can sound like a transcription from a therapy session, but his observations are original and good, so he can be forgiven for writing them in a quotable style. A line like “patience comes slow, but change comes slower” would go nicely on an inspirational poster in a third grade classroom, but what matters is that it fits the moment in the song he’s put it in, so it’s hard to fault his writing on that score.& &

Those looking to hear Brian Webb will have to keep their eyes open. His web site has not been updated in two years, so it’s not a great source of concert information, but if you keep your eyes on Passim’s schedule (a good idea for anyone interested in hearing good songwriters) you’ll probably see his name in about six months. And perhaps you’ll hear an update on Ultimate Fighting, or on his kid. And you’ll probably hear the latest version of the song about his grandmother. I bet you’ll pick up the chorus, too – it’s not hard.

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