The gospel is ultimately a gritty proposition; an innocent man traded his life for a guilty humanity. It's a story that has real weight, a real edge. So it's a shame that much of what passes as music about gospel themes is often neutered, sanitized, polished up and made "safe for the whole family." But once in a while, an artist of faith comes along who surprises you, who does justice to the real story of the gospel--the real heart of the matter--by writing gritty songs with real weight and purpose.
Indiana's John Tibbs is that kind of artist, and his debut EP, Dead Man Walking, is that kind of album, with the kind of songs that have just enough of an edge to suggest that the gospel really is something that is slightly dangerous. Bursting with real energy and plucky guitars, The lead track on Dead Man Walking, "Silver In Stone" bursts out of the gate with enough dirt between the notes to suggest its theme is right on; that is, that often times the Lord makes use of the messes that we make, finding the "silver in the stone," the diamond in the rough. With shades of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the heartland rock Tibbs traffics in is just right for the weightier, darker side of the redemption story. Against snarling guitars, Tibbs testifies that the Lord "made your home / in a place unknown / inside these veins / in this muscle and bone / you lead me back from the places I've roamed / you've paid every last dime on the debts that I've grown / but every time it seems impossible that you find / this silver in stone." With complex wordplay and a grand theme (depravity versus grace), "Silver In Stone" is a great song and a powerful opening salvo.
The next track, the epic and driving "Abraham," uses the wandering of its title character to illustrate that, despite our best efforts as humans, the only thing that gives you peace in this life is the grace of God. With more dense wordplay and an echoing synthesizer, "Abraham" doubles down on the intensity, with Tibbs stressing out his vocal chords singing "It's not who you are / it's not where you've been / it's not what your hands have built / it's the grace of God that makes this fallen place home."
Things take a down tempo and soulful turn on the title track, with Tibbs and guest vocalist Elle Holcomb singing a down home testimony of God's salvation. Similar to Needtobreathe's "Washed By The Water," "Dead Man Walking" takes a southern music form and breathes life into it.
"Run Wild" amps back up the intensity, with a plea for the Spirit to "run wild in my soul," and "Love Stands Tall" ends the EP with a nice reflection on the tough nature of love--and what it is and isn't. With production that sounds right out of the late 80's, "Love Stands Tall" sounds like a misplaced anthem from Bruce Springsteen's classic album, Tunnel Of Love.
Tibbs' Dead Man Walking EP is a refreshing dose of spirit, grit and passion. John's full album will be releasing in February, and these five songs foreshadow an artist to look out for in 2016.
- Review date: 10/26/15, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com