The debut full length from the Phillip Fox Band from Ohio was helped along by a successful crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign. They played their excess of newly written songs for fans over multiple live shows and allowed them to have a hand in voting for the tracks that would make the cut, whittling down to 12 tracks of self-described "country-fried rock n' roll."
Their fan friendly approach to their art complements their music well. On record, their sound is a little bit rough around the edges, but it appears designed for raucous live settings. They fall somewhere in the southern country and heartland rock scenes, blending flourishes of classic country with rowdy electric guitars and pounding drum beats.
"Heartland" kicks off with "You Are the Girl," a rugged rock and roll love song that highlights the gritty vocals of Fox. From the start, they keep the guitars loud and comfortably thread their way through every stereotype of the genres that they are eschewing. The downside of relying so heavily on these stereotypes is that the album is largely predictable, straightforward rock songs with small doses of banjo and blue collar friendly lyrics. There is the obligatory blues rock boogie (title track "Heartland") and '80s style guitar solos ("I'd Be Runnin' Too") and the way too long closing track with a meandering jam.
When they take the opportunity to experiment, though, the music becomes interesting. On "Nothin' Worse Than Weak," they manage to successfully blend Nickelback vocals with Mexican musicianship, something which in theory should have been a complete mess. They channel '90s radio friendly alt. rock on "Cancer Cannot," a catchy song reminiscent of The Verve Pipe or Lifehouse with powerful lyrics.
The Phillip Fox Band have released an interesting debut full length. "Heartland" is very much a rock and roll album, but they draw on a wide variety of influences within the broad genre. If the recording is an accurate representation of the live shows, then they are likely a riot to see in person. They are likely an entertaining bar band able to blend Lynyrd Skynyrd and Buckcherry covers deftly into their sets. But with production too raw and music too predictable, "Heartland" doesn't work well as a standalone album.