Judging by record and concert sales of the past couple years from breakout acts like Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers, it’s clearly prime season for the vulnerable, raw, Americana folk artist in pop culture. What might be a successful business move into that scene for some artists – albeit, most likely a short one – has been a way of life for veteran Vineyard artist John Barnett for as long as he can remember.
The worship leader/song-writer’s latest Vineyard Music project Never Look Back (in stores November 8) is a labor of love, soul-searching and, though inadvertently, artistic relevance to a growing niche of young worshipers desperate for authenticity in their music.
“A lot of living went into this album – it’s autobiographical of my heart’s desire to rediscover who God is the past several years,” Barnett says. “My wife and I spent lots of years living comfortably in California before we arrived at this point of desperately needing to find God. To come to terms with what’s truly important, and what’s not.”
For the Barnetts, that meant departing – if only geographically – from their Vineyard community of over two decades for Northwest Montana. On a farmhouse nestled into the mountains – a half-hour’s drive from the closest civilization: a country church where they lead worship to a congregation of dozens, and a world away from California – John recorded every note on Never Look Back.
The 13-song collection is a hybrid of Barnett’s musical influences – from the Beatles to Steve Earle to Fleet Foxes – though crafting catchy melodies took a backseat in priority to framing each song around the lyrics. The heart behind every word Never Look Back derives from a man bearing his inadequate, longing soul to the one true God who can fulfill his desire for affirmation and love.
“I’ve never fit into the polished, worship-leader mold,” Barnett asserts. “There’s a tension when it comes to writing music without pretention, yet wondering if I should be attempting to create hook-y songs for the radio. The result is always the same: I can’t pretend to be anyone other than what I am, and this is the music God’s led me to create. Not surprisingly, there’s a growing segment across the country seeking out this organic, under-produced style of worship.”
Highlighting this project for Barnett are “All Is Well” and “He Has Overcome” – the former co-written by fellow Vineyard artists Ryan Delmore and Casey Corum. Both allude to Christ’s finished work on the Cross, and the salvation that can be found to those who cling to that truth.
Standing out amongst the set is final track “Holy and Anointed One”, Barnett’s most popular worship song recorded for the first time by the writer himself. Stripped down to a piano and a plinking banjo, the ubiquitous melody sung in churches worldwide closes Never Look Back with the simplicity and earnestness that’s carried out on each of the album’s previous songs.