Release Date: April 15th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- State I’m In
- Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now
- Oh, Carolina
- Difference Maker
- Rise Again
- The Heart
- Where the Money Is
- More Heart, Less Attack
‘…we were asking ourselves ‘Are you willing to change yourself in order to succeed?’ I think, in some ways, we tried that for a while. It was so tough on our souls and our stomachs and I think all of us knew that we couldn’t do that any longer. There was a moment where I thought the band was over. We had to take a break and meditate on what we each wanted NEEDTOBREATHE to be…’ NEEDTOBREATHE, possibly one of the decade’s most successful crossover artists, have been able to use their platform in both Christian and mainstream music to deliver heartfelt melodies and songs that stir the soul. Yet as this aforementioned quote shows us, there was a time not too long ago where the band felt like they were changing too much of their sound. What resulted was a time away from music, a sad but amicable parting of Joe Stillwell the drummer and a refocus to bring about their new album Rivers in the Wasteland, which released to stores April 16th.
With their career spanning chart topping songs like “Lay ‘Em Down”, “You Are Here”, “The Outsiders”, “Something Beautiful” and “Keep Your Eyes Open”; the band has always had an uncanny ability to infuse faith and relationship messages in their songs to seemingly follow artists like Switchfoot and Skillet before them, as they continue to break down the barrier of Christian and mainstream music. With this latest album being a great testament to their ability to bring together pop, country, folk, CCM, worship and rock, Rivers in the Wasteland is by far one of their most all-rounded albums the band has ever done, with standout songs being worshipful “Multiplied”, feet-stomping hand clapping “The Heart” and quiet and reflective “Difference Maker”.
With the song being played live long before it was recorded for the new album, “Difference Maker” is a melody that utilises acoustic guitars and a light keyboard riff to allow lead singer Bear Rinehart a moment to give us the courage and strength to make a difference in the world we are in currently (hopefully for God) as we hear a slightly repetitious chorus of how ‘…I am a difference maker, I am the only one who speaks to Him, and I am the friendliest friends of God…’ Having the privilege to be called God’s friend is something we ought not to take lightly, as we realise that it is through us that God can in fact make differences in the world, and we ought to realise that we were put on this world to make differences, or in a better term, history.
“The Heart”, the second radio single, is a polar opposite musically to “Difference Maker”, yet still has a profound impact to anyone who hears it. While a times a little frustrating to hear ‘ohhh, ohhh’s’ littered throughout the song, it doesn’t negate from the positive message, of how we ought to strive and figure out what our heart wants, and whether we’re chasing after the right things in our lives. Hope, encouragement, love, romance, comfort, encouragement and shelter are all vital for us, and as Bear declares the words- ‘…be my winter in this living hell, be my one last dying wishing well…’, I am able to rest assured that Christ can be all these things to me and more as I immerse myself in His love for me and all of humanity.
Continuing with their country-style melodies, Needtobreathe have utilised their skilful use of banjos, hand claps and Bear’s gruff and distinct voice to create poignant songs that have the impact in breaking down the barriers of the music styles we listeners love to hear and enjoy. Pseudo-title track “Wasteland” acoustically brings out a ballad with the theme of the journey, and more importantly the journey that the band members have been on throughout the last few years. The refreshing lyrics of how ‘…if God is on our side, who can be against me…’ is just one of many references to their faith for a band that has been trying to bridge the gap between the sacred and secular music genres by writing lyrics that seemingly appeal to both groups of listeners.
“Multiplied”, co-written with Ed Cash, is possibly the biggest surprise from the band lyrically, with the melody being their most overt worship song since “Signature of Divine (Yahweh)”. With light acoustics and Bear enthusiastically declaring that ‘…Your love will surely come find us, like blazing wild fire, singing Your name…’, I can’t help but smile at the band for their persistence- with their album coming to the fore out of their near disbanding, “Multiplied” is a result of the fervent trust in Christ as we, alongside Bear, cry out God’s praises in a track that I’m sure will be listen to even by non-Christians, because of the musical genius the band is.
Throughout the rest of the album, the band have relayed to us encouraging yet also confronting and hopefully encouraging themes with a myriad of musical instrument styles to place Rivers in the Wasteland as one of the most musically diverse albums of the year so far. “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” is a grunge-guitar driven melody with electronic vocal distortion and a theme of us running a race as we try to run faster and farther than everyone else around us- whether it be our competition or our hindrances; while “State I’m In” employs some unique vocal layering a la backing vocals on The Beatles projects as light guitar and a throwback to musical styles in the 1980s present to us a moment of uncertainty, longing, hopefulness, and a slither of hope that we can be redeemed from the most unredeemable situations. “Oh Carolina” is a love letter to the state where the band started playing in, and complete with a southern gospel twang, this melody is sure to chart well in country and mainstream pop radio.
Edginess continues with the powerful drum and synth driven “Where the Money Is”, a song where Bear declares out ‘…don’t wanna know where the money is…’ a moment where the band longs to be more ignorant about things than they currently are, something we all can relate to as we can sometimes be caught up in the moment and money when all we ought to do is not worry about it all and focus our eyes on the motivation behind what we do. Needtobreathe also show us their lyrical prowess in songs like “Rise Again”, an acoustically driven southern-style melody that calls us all to have faith in the fact that we’ll rise again from the mishaps we have had in our lives, and album ender “More Heart, Less Attack”, a peace promoting melody that stands at a formidable 5 minutes- with Bear unveiling one of the most revealing tracks on the album through the poignant words of how we ought to ‘…be the light in the cracks, be the one that’s mending the camel’s back, slow to anger and quick to laugh, be more heart and less attack…’
One of the most powerful and poignant albums of their whole career, Needtobreathe have offered us a gem of an album, and one to be enjoyed by lovers of southern gospel or country music, with a rock and meaningful edge. With their popularity increasing ever since their popular crossover hit “Washed By The Water”, this southern-gospel rock band has given us songs with themes to think about as this band moves in the category of rock/southern/country bands that are some of my favourites, like Third Day, Rhett Walker Band, Crowder and Steve Grace. Rivers in the Wasteland has a central theme of hope, encouragement and wandering out of the wasteland we can find ourselves in, as Bo, Bear and Seth capture the rawness and realness of the songs and remind us why they are still one of Christian music’s top selling band currently!
3 songs to listen to: The Heart, Difference Maker, Multiplied
RIYL: Third Day, Rhett Walker Band, Switchfoot, Brooke Fraser, Crowder