Listen up CCM world; this is how you write honest songs. Unabashed Midwesterner John Tibbs has released more authentic, epic and quality songs in his short run as a professional songwriter than many artists will produce in a lifetime.
Heartland brims with the kind of honest rock and roll that the late, great Tom Petty trafficked in, with the "heart-on-his-sleeve" craftsmanship that creates an immediate bond with the listener on the first pass. Tibbs excels at applying his songwriting formula (epic, raspy vocals, lots of raw guitars juxtaposed against vintage keyboard sounds that would make 80's era Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp smile) to several well-established kinds of songs in the Christian Music world.
Opening barn-burner "Won't Let Me Go" has a title that suggests many other worship tunes at the outset, but ten seconds into the song, it's clear that Tibbs is steering clear of any clichéd worship songwriting, with his compelling voice ringing out as honest and rocking a worship number as has been put to tape in the past few years, "Knocking down the fear of failing / kicking in the doors that lock me out / say goodbye to ghosts that haunt me / go on / I don't need you now / and I will not fear when the earth gives way / and the lightning strikes and the ocean's rage / I will never walk alone / you won't let me go." "Won't Let Me Go" is a tune that Air1 and K-LOVE music programmers should seriously consider adding to the ol' radio play lists. Tunes this energetic, authentic and encouraging deserve a wide audience.
The title track spins a great geographical metaphor (a staple in American music), using the familiar term "heartland" as a picture of living life close to the heart of God. With a slow and epic build, "Heartland" would make a terrific closing track at an arena concert or over the credits of a film. It's the sort of song that isn't being written much anymore, but deserves a comeback. "Midwest Magic" continues the geographical theme, with a sweet love song that rings true and is devoid of all the sappy, cloying moments that often befall songs like this. "Shepherd" is a terrific, compelling and worshipful duet with kindred spirit Sandra McCracken that makes great use of Psalm 23 imagery and scores another win for a "left-field" worship tune (that is, one that is melodic and appealing, yet devoid of all the trappings of modern pop-worship song wring).
Heartland is a masterful effort from Tibbs, and serves as a textbook example of how to write a rock and roll song with an authentic spiritual, emotional and honest core. With much of Christian music suffering from an excess of glossy and varnished songwriting and production, Tibbs' Heartland ep (and his previous full-length effort Dead Man Walking) is a blueprint that songwriters of faith should give serious consideration to. The world doesn't need anymore clichéd songwriting; it needs honesty and true passion, which Tibbs has in abundance. Turn it up and go for a drive, particularly someplace with fields and a horizon to look at, and then consider the geography and terrain of your own heart.
- Review date: 10/19/17, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com