Review Corner: Needtobreathe’s Rivers In The Wasteland

(Source: Atlantic Records, Curb Records and Word Records)
(Source: Atlantic Records, Curb Records and Word Records)

It’s been a while since we reported on Needtobreathe. You probably remember the alternative rock band was the opening act of Taylor Swift’s Speak Now Tour during the North American leg back in 2011. The band started back in South Carolina with main members Bear Rinehart, Bob Rinehart and Seth Bolt.

Their latest offering is Rivers In The Wasteland, 11 tracks written and composed by Bear and Bo Rinehart. The result is a powerful mix of southern rock, acoustic folk ballad, gospel rock and Americana music. The first track “Wasteland” walks the line between a prayer, a pep talk and a bit of a call to arms. It’s an introduction to the album with a bit of a speech before going into battle.

It’s “State I’m In” where I feel like the opening salvo is really fired. It’s here where the beat and the drum take center stage. The guitar strumming really shines strong with “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now” continuing the musical and instrumental assault, a welcoming one. It’s this combination of homecoming warmth and rousing battle hymns that permeates the album becoming the band’s signature sound. “Oh, Carolina” is precisely a little nod and a big hug to their South Carolina roots.

It’s very hard to categorize the tracks in Rivers In The Wasteland as fast or slow. You can probably call them loud or louder, but they’re all powerful enough that you expect them to shine played to a crowd large or small. “Difference Maker” is a bit of a prayer huddle, a gospel regroup urging to go on. It’s spiritual more than it is religious and it’s intention is not to judge you but to urge you to see yourself as someone who can still make a difference.

Here’s the official video for “Difference Maker”:

Watch on YouTube

That theme continues with “Rise Again”, a rousing song that begs to be sung by a chorus of everyone who listens. This is something I’d like to hear when I’m down on my luck or something that makes me want to keep trying harder when I feel content. I expect a giant sing-along when it’s played live. We keep going with “The Heart” which just feels like that a crowd favorite being sung at someone’s porch with friends, family and a guitar joining in.

Here’s the official video for “The Heart”:

Watch on YouTube

“Where the Money Is” breaks away from the theme. It’s a rock song that barely misses being a pop song as it starts. The bridge redeems it back to Southern Rock momentarily. I’m kind of in the fence whether I like it or not. Luckily, “Multiplied” brings us back to acoustic raw hymn territory. “Brother” continues the trend, with a curious piano interlude on the bridge that departs almost into a different song, but eventually comes back to conclude in a rousing chorus.

“More Heart, Less Attack” is the closing song in the album with a bit of a inspirational motif: “the more you take the less you have”. It’s kind of a farewell message, the ending chapter of a storybook of someone’s rise, fall and redemption. It’s less rousing and more of a send off after the amazing work you’ve just listened to. It was never a sermon for you to change your life, but the soundtrack to the journey you are already in. As the last words say, “I’m down the river to where I’m going”. It’s not a judgement but an encouragement.

Here’s a clip on the making of the album:

Watch on YouTube

Recommended. In an age where uplifting songs use many metaphors to urge us to feel better about ourselves, the album might easily be called religious or christian just because of the word God or a couple of hallelujahs. It never pretends to speak for you, give you a sermon or brag about the superiority of a religious upbringing. It just lets the music draw you in with a message of hope, which is universal. You could actually take out the words and still enjoy the music instrumentality but speaking that would take away from the experience. You can’t listen to this without wanting to join in.

Rivers In The Wasteland is out on iTunes now. Needtobreathe perform on the Grand Ole Opry this Saturday, April 19th and on April 23th they will be the musical guests on Late Night with David Letterman.

Coming up on the Calendar!

  • May 18: The 2014 Billboard Music Awards air live  on May 18 on ABC at 8pm ET.
  • May 30: The RED Tour in Shanghai, China at Mercedes-Benz Arena. More information.
  • June 1: The RED Tour in Tokyo, Japan at Saitama Super Arena. Tickets on sale March 29. More Information.
  • June 4: The 2014 CMT Music Awards.
  • June 4: The RED Tour in Jakarta, Indonesia at MEIS (Mata Elang International Stadium). Tickets on sale February 24. More Information.

(Sources: Needtobreathe.comiTunes)