Review: Paul Webb is vulnerable Rustin Man on ‘Drift Code’

Paul Webb had been working for years on a follow-up to his first album as Rustin Man — “Out of Season,” the stupendous 2002 collaboration with Portishead singer Beth Gibbons — but other projects kept getting in the way.

Then there was the issue of being able to perform the sounds in his head, which led to a lengthy process of learning several instruments — Webb was the bass player in Talk Talk — from accordion, harmonica and xylophone to a wide selection of guitars and keyboards.

Along the way, Webb recorded musical fragments on cassette and relied on the skills of former schoolmate and Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris during sessions at the barn in southeast England which serves both as recording studio and Webb’s family home.

The outcome of the process is “Drift Code,” where the influence of the rural setting is felt on songs like opener “Vanishing Heart” — a Dear Jane letter — “Martian Garden” and “All Summer,” as Webb’s voice turns out to be an eerie, warts-and-all combination of Robert Wyatt’s high-pitched oscillations and David Bowie’s, with the vulnerability it showed on his last albums.

The drama of the verdict on “Judgement Train” is heard in its sobbing guitar solo and the throbbing percussion leading the way to doom, while “Our Tomorrows” expresses the desire to slow time and sounds like a mashup of Jethro Tull, The Zombies and Ray Manzarek’s keyboards.

Relying, as well, on brass, string, woodwind and percussion players, the songs’ layering avoids saturation and their themes and melodies are easily absorbed.

On “The World’s in Town,” Webb sings “I’m drifting from day to day/And everywhere feels like my home.” On “Drift Code,” he’s inviting us into his own lair and it’s worth a visit.

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