Release Date: August 11th 2017
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- HARD LOVE (feat. Serena Ryder)
- COUNT ON ME
- WALKING ON WATER
- HARD LOVE (feat. Andra Day)
Currently right now one of the most popular and respected bands in both Christian and mainstream media markets (probably according to both listeners and critics; and alongside bands and artists such as Switchfoot, Owl City, Lifehouse, Relient K, for KING & COUNTRY, Skillet and Cimorelli!), Needtobreathe are a band whom I have increasingly been actively following and listening to over the past few years, and have been respecting more and more. Branching out and recording plenty of songs specifically directed to the mainstream media, the South Carolina quartet comprises of brothers Bear and Bo, and good friends Seth and Josh; with the four having wowed us again and again with their honest lyrics, catchy music and southern rock goodness, also providing us with plenty of inspiring and thought provoking messages to ponder over as well.
With their most successful and critically acclaimed studio album HARD LOVE just over a year old (you can read my review here!), and with the band garnering numerous Dove Award nominations a few days ago (for Rock/Contemporary album, and for Rock/Contemporary song- the title track!) as well as their song “Testify” being included on the WOW Hits 2018 compilation; the 12 track collection of pop rock goodness showing us once again what a force Bear, Bo, Seth and Josh are right now, and how they’re definitely a band to be reckoned with both now and into the future. Providing us songs that compel us to dwell upon and ponder the deep issues of life, there was definitely plenty of food for thought on the album. Fast forward to now, and here we are, blessed with another Needtobreathe release. HARD CUTS: Songs from the HARD LOVE Sessions – EP dropped a few days ago, so what do I think of this new 6 song EP, containing 2 new versions of “Hard Love” (not including the version with Lauren Daigle on The Shack Soundtrack!) and 4 unreleased songs which could have been present on HARD LOVE?
Let’s unpack the familiar first, shall we? The album opener is a reimagined version of “Hard Love”, featuring the stirring vocals of Serena Ryder. Now this version is completely torn apart and put back together again, in the sense that it’s musically unrecognisable and the original tempo has been slowed down, with Bear passionately singing across a haunting and mysterious backdrop of ethereal music and a gospel choir. Nonetheless, versions like these are bold, and kudos has to be given to the band for stepping out in faith, no matter the outcome. By the way, this version is very compelling and catchy, and I really enjoy it, the creativity is buzzing here. Speaking about new versions of “Hard Love”, the album closer is the same song as well, this time featuring the guest vocals of r&b/soul singer/songwriter Andra Day. A missed opportunity when I saw this song not present on the WOW Hits 2018 track list, “Hard Love” is probably the most inspirational song on HARD LOVE and is once again a great reminder of the band’s ability to create great music, and capture us with their inspirational presence and overall relatability. And so while “Hard Love” with Serena Ryder was bold and musically daring, “Hard Love” with Andra Day is musically safer. Diving in with a poppy and radio friendly atmosphere; Bear and Andra both earnestly and passionately trade vocals and sing together beautifully in harmony, and also both highlight the fact that whenever trouble and adversity arrives, to ‘…hold on tight a little longer, what don’t kill ya, makes ya stronger, get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love…’, to fight the good fight, as you never know when things will be better, and there might be something good happening around the corner. Though musically similar to the original studio version, the presence of Andra, as well as Serena in the previous version, creates an intimate, personal and more honest setting- well done guys for a compelling melody recorded twice more, and with twice more impact!
The final four songs on this EP are ‘brand new’ although the band have been singing these songs for a while on tour since HARD LOVE released last year. “Waiting” is led by the organ and some pretty nifty synth work, as Bear and co. reiterate in this 80’s gospel influenced melody that he yearns to be loved by a woman, that ‘…you keep me waiting, shaking, trembling, chasing mistakes that I made, which words did I say. oh I can’t take it I need you, right now cause you keep me waiting…’, while the slower paced piano led introspective and reflective ballad “Count On Me” thematically picks up where “Brother” from Rivers In The Wasteland left off, as Bear ardently sings to a friend, letting them know that in all times, even the tough ones, that he can be called on in any situation, that ‘…when you lose, when you rush, when you don’t feel strong enough, everybody needs a pick me up, you can count on me…’. Musically these two songs are on point, and are engaging enough, but it is really “Walking On Water” and “Cages” that are the pinnacle of the album.
With the worshipful “Walking On Water”, Needtobreathe really go back thematically to songs like “Signature Of Divine (Yahweh)”, “Washed By The Water”, “Lay ‘Em Down”, “Devil’s Been Talkin’”, “Difference Maker” and “Multiplied”, in the sense that this song is explicitly spiritual, and definitely in a good way. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but I got the sense that the band was trying to sing from Peter’s perspective as he was walking on the water to Jesus. As Bear eloquently reiterates the prayerful admission that ‘…there’s no turning back, nothing in the past, my eyes on You again, can’t see nothing at all but Your outstretched arms, help me believe it, though I falter, You got me walking on water…’ we are glimpsed into a God moment of surrender, a declaration we can all make, that Jesus has our backs in every situation, no matter what. The piano heavy ballad “Cages” rounds out the track list in style, as each of the four members of the band take turns at being the lead vocalist (and each of them excelling at singing also!). Thematically and lyrically about how we as people can search for meaning in the wrong places, resulting in us ending up in cages that we think we cannot get out of (but we can, with Jesus’ help!); “Cages” impresses me greatly (and I’m sure the song will impact all who listen as well!), and highlights the prowess of Needtobreathe not only as songwriters and entertainers, but also as singers who delve into relevant issues as well.
So there you have it- Bear, Bo, Seth and Josh have done it again, creating a musical and lyrical masterpiece in one of the strongest EP’s of 2017 Alive City’s Say; while enlisting a couple of today’s up and coming female vocalists in Andra Day and Serena Ryder, as they examine and dive deep into issues that are relevant across society, while ensuring that their faith in God and testimony of how Jesus is who He says He is, shines through the music and lyrics! With “Cages” and “Walking On Water” being my favourites, potential singles and either one of them a potential inclusion for WOW Hits 2019 next year; I already can’t wait to listen to the band’s new full studio album whenever it releases! Well done Bear, Bo, Seth and Josh; I will definitely recommend your music to many of my friends and acquaintances!
3 songs to listen to: Cages, Walking On Water, Hard Love (feat. Andra Day)
RIYL: Colton Dixon, Daughtry, Switchfoot, Lifehouse, The Fray, One Republic, Skillet