James Robert Webb – Ride of Die (EP)

James Robert Webb’s six-track EP Ride or Die stakes his claim as one of the most important new voices in modern country music. He mixes anthemic compositions alongside raucous life-celebrating tracks that are sure to find widespread favor. It lays the groundwork for Webb’s next full-length collection Weekend Outlaw, but still leaves a good impression as an outstanding, albeit brief, standalone release. He has kept a prolific pace since first emerging as a must-hear performer without sacrificing quality.

His status as an in-demand musculoskeletal radiologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma hasn’t interfered with his musical career. Webb has played at several high-profile venues in the Nashville area and garnered important awards. He first appeared in 2013 and has accumulated a devoted following. Ride or Die finds his artistry reaching a new peak. “Gentlemen Start Your Weekends” is an inspired opener that sets the bar high for everything that follows.

It isn’t particularly country. There is no question that “Gentlemen Start Your Weekends” leans much further in a rock direction, but it keeps a decidedly down-south feel. One of the song’s greatest strengths is its direct and conversational lyrical content. Webb shows a true penchant for writing about universally experienced emotions in a relatable style. “Gentlemen Start Your Weekends” hinges on its working-class, blue-collar appeal. It avoids overt stylization and should seamlessly translate to the stage.

“Ride or Die” deserves its position as the second track. Title tracks are often buried at the midway point or beyond in a track listing, and positioning them near the beginning shows an artist’s confidence in their material. It’s justified in this case. It’s another song tailored for mass appeal.  He spikes the arrangement with scattered lead guitar breaks that serve as welcome musical exclamation points upping the sonic ante. “Lovesick Drifting Cowboy” moves in a different direction.

Webb shows a tight grasp of atmospherics and dynamics with this cut. It echoes earlier performers, without question, but Webb puts enough of a personal spin on these stock country themes that it never risks imitation. He successfully marries country and blues influences by pairing harmonica and fiddle without striking a discordant note. It has a strong debt to the outlaw country tradition, and Webb doesn’t sound out of place. “New Moon Light” has assorted strong suits. One of its primary peaks is melodious piano playing that supplies the song with interesting rhythmic movement. Webb demonstrates his flexibility as a singer throughout this piece.

He does it again with the EP closer. However, “Adore” goes further and flows through a more personalized vein than any earlier tracks. The acoustic instrumentation enhances the intimate texture, and Webb’s singing lingers close to listeners. It concludes Ride or Die on a quietly audacious note. This six-track EP is a memorable teaser for the full-length album but sticks with you as memorable. It further reinforces James Robert Webb’s standing as one of the most talented mainstream performers today. He’ll continue winning new fans with releases like this. It’s a winner from start to finish.

Mark Druery