April 16, 2014

A Review of Needtobreathe's New Album "Rivers in the Wasteland"


Over the last four years or so, Sarah and I have seen Needtobreathe every time they've come to Boston. We are, as they say, fans. However during their last concert at the House of Blues they "tried out" a few songs they were working on for their new album. After playing the songs, Oh, Carolina and Difference Maker, Sarah and I looked at each other and said, "yikes." We thought the songs were...for lack of a better word...really, really cheesy. OhCarolina sounded like the token, "If we say the name of a state in a song, they'll probably play it at the state fair", and Difference Maker sounded like lead-singer Bear Rhinehart got lyrical help from Scott Stapp. Needless to say, I was a bit cautious about the new album. But after some debate on whether we should risk $9, we pulled the trigger and purchased it this afternoon. I've now listened to the album start to finish twice. Here are my thoughts.

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With the release of their fifth studio album, Rivers in the Wasteland, the South Carolinian trio of brothers Bear and Bo Rinehart and bassist Seth Bolt (otherwise known as Needtobreathe) attempt to combine familiar elements from their previous four albums while continuing to evolve as musicians. If The Outsiders was them finding their sound, and The Reckoning was them perfecting that sound, Wasteland is them trying to refine that sound.

Although Wastelands still has their familiar southern rock/folk feel, use of the banjo (though not nearly as much) and spiritual lyrics (e.g., "If god is on my side who can be against me" - roughly Romans 8:31), the band experiments with more lyrically driven songs (e.g., Difference Maker, Wastelands), takes a stab a Beach Boy-like harmonies (State I'm In) and even tries their hand at what (I guess) could be described as "electronic" music (Multiplied). Unfortunately for all its "diversity", Wasteland lacks that one defining song (e.g., The Outsiders, Devil's Been Talking, Washed by the Water), and probably trades in the Les Paul for the acoustic guitar one too many times.

This album will most likely win several Dove Awards, but in an odd (and ironic) sort of way, their "honest" lyrics and thoughtful songwriting seems to cheapen and demean their message in a way in which the songs become a bit cliche. Needtobreathe was at its best when they actual were outsiders--musicians that could belong in both the secular and spiritual arena. Sadly, I think they've given up on that a bit.

Perhaps most importantly, it's tough to dance to this album. I don't disagree theologically with Multiplied, but I miss Girl Named Tennessee. This is not to say that the album is bad--I think it's actually pretty good--I guess I just expected more.

My official rating: 5.5 out of 10 stars

Here's some additional misc. thoughts:

  • Worst Song - More heart, Less attack 
  • Classic NTB song - Rise Again 
  • Sneaky Good Song (that sounds like the guitarist from ZZ Top plays the solo) - Feet Don't Fail Me 
  • Song you'll be embarrassed to admit it's your favorite when you see a twelve year-old girl singing it at the top of her longs -- The Heart

To purchase the album on iTunes, click here.

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