Across Moments, you get the inkling that Jamie Webster knows he’s got more to offer than others in his field. That might not have been clearly telegraphed on his debut We Get By—imagine the halfway-there politicking of Gerry Cinnamon with a Scouse accent and you’re pretty much there—but his ascension to local folk hero isn’t going to have no effect. Indeed, Webster’s rise has been defined by a dogged, grassroots commitment to building his own pseudo-legend, a fact that can certainly colour the way this album is viewed next to its predecessor. Most notably, this lacks the complacency that can plague so many singer-songwriters; it feels more boldly sketched with the edges thicker and roughly shaded, almost in a graduating step from ‘busker’ to ‘troubadour’, for what that’s worth. Granted, that’s not saying a lot when Webster is still firmly in the corral of indie soloists, but if nothing else, it makes for clearer storytelling peaks that stand as far more engaging than anything that’s come prior. It’s where his political side shines the most, and the willingness to engage with the nitty-gritty in a way that plenty of his contemporaries will simply skim over. Songs like Davey Kane and Knock At My Door feel much more specific in their details, as respective hits at a justice and prison system more eager to punish than rehabilitate, even for minor offenses, and a London-centric Tory government that will willfully leave northern communities stricken and disenfranchised. The ‘street-poetry’ vignettes like Love Affair and Going Out can come across like laurel-resting (or Webster tapping into the wellspring of his own hyper-populism), but it’s still less performative than most can seem. He’s got a more tangible character and a down-to-earth presentation that reflects an unencumbered reality; there’s tension and frustration coming through when it needs to, amplified by the Scouse sneer and a legitimate stance taken.
In terms of attitude, this does feel more successful at capturing a ‘punk’ spirit, or—perhaps preferably—the more conscious folk music that a lot of Webster’s music can be traced back to. He’s still in a position of hanging on to homespun scale in the prominence of acoustic guitar, but with the expected indie and older rock ‘n’ roll influence to not excise crossover potential completely. It leads to a very middle-of-the-road sound overall, one that’s not exactly unpleasant or surprising, but still doesn’t have the personality to match the steps up in the writing. It’s precisely the sort of work that wears its appreciation for ‘real music’ directly on its sleeve, disavowing anything post-1979 and, honestly, feeling a bit weaker for it when there’s no greater flavour. As much as Going Out feels like a Sam Fender riff, that comes with the caveat of lacking the expanse and explosiveness that so often makes his work. Webster, meanwhile, will pick up some darker sizzle for Davey Kane and Knock At My Door, but strip that out for songs like the title track and What’s Wrong? aiming to be more straight-laced, and the downgrade is palpable. To be fair, the aim of facilitating a big, easy-to-please crowd singalong vibe is met, which makes it hard to dock marks when this sort of music doesn’t have much in the way of vibrancy by design. Maybe it’s just overflow disappointment from the fact that Moments is a stronger, more identifiable listen overall, though still retains the usual shortcomings that really won’t be seen as such to the intended audience. Take all of this with a grain of salt, then; for what he’s doing and for who he’s playing to, Webster is producing better work now, notably more so than the artists with whom he’ll mostly be pitted against. Even if it’s still not amazing, that a solid sign all the same.
For fans of: Gerry Cinnamon, Bob Dylan, Courteeners
‘Moments’ by Jamie Webster is released on 28th January on Modern Sky.
Words by Luke Nuttall