With Needtobreathe returning to King Tut’s on 4th December 2014 this seems like a good time to dust off the old CDs and look at their output to date in the latest Boxset article.
I’ve never classed Needtobreathe as a “Christian” rock band, more a rock band with faith, mixing sacred and secular without alienating either.
2001 – The Feature
This self released offering gives us glimpses of lyricism and musicality through the veil of naive recording. All the elements of Needtobreathe are evident on this album, the southern roots, the wonderful melodies and religious sensibility. ’The Intro’ is a standard metal guitar riff with a best forgotten lyric welcoming us to the show. ’Separated’ launches the album proper in good style; rock riffs tempered with Americana.
There is a strong current of Counting Crows and Creedence Clearwater Revival running through the album with folksy nooks and spiritual crannies. There is a lot to like about this album; ’Leave the Light On’ and ’Next Time’ are my favourites. The lack of a professional producer shows and it has a very bedroom recording feel in some tracks although the quality of the songs still hold up.
2006 – Daylight
The first studio album after signing to Atlantic, Daylight is packed with driven guitar, slick hooks and big anthemic choruses. This album was produced by Andy Green, Keane’s producer and was not released through Contemporary Christian Music channels. There is a very U2-ish sound to the tracks and although the spiritual part is acknowledged this is a big brash contemporary rock album first.
You can hear the early U2 influences clearly in ’Don’t Wait For Daylight’, Green has taken that 80’s vibe and blended it with the straight down the line song writing and vocal dexterity of Bear Rinehart and brought it right up to date. ‘Over It Now’ wanders into Coldplay territory with hints of Travis. This is a warm introduction to Needtobreathe for the uninitiated. ’Shine On’ is my favourite track.
2007 – The Heat
We are welcomed by an acoustic ditty that blasts into ’Restless’ which gets us off and running. This is the album that established Needtobreathe in the top flight of homeland rockers. This is not a clone of Daylight, the same big stadium ready anthems are there but Ed Roland (Collective Soul) has joint production credits and you can hear his influence throughout the album although it never eclipses the sound of Rick Beato at the desk. ’Signature of Divine (Yahweh)’ was the first single from the album, a spiritual lyric with a big brash pounding presence. ’Washed by the Water’ as an acoustic single is far superior to the album version.
2009 – The Outsiders
The Outsiders is the band’s third professional album and my personal favourite, the bacon to The Heat’s eggs. This is their first album as out-and-out rock stars with feet still planted in both christian and secular camps. The big early U2 anthemic sound is still just a power cord away on the title track and the introduction of banjo gives it a country flavour picked up in the lyric of ’Prisoner’.
This album is stuffed full of goodies, the boogie-woogie piano on ’Girl Named Tennessee’ get you up out of your seat then ’Something Beautiful’ gives you something to shout about. Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) adds just the right touch of longing to the wistful ’Stones Under Rushing Water’. This is a well-balanced album, the tracks sit well together and on first listen it really works but take your time and discover the depth and breadth of the lyrics, the interesting arrangements and just revel in Bear Rinehart’s voice.
2011 – The Reckoning
The Reckoning was released to critical acclaim, it is stuffed full of big music. This is a darker album lacking the highs of The Outsiders, the arena ready hooks, chest thumping rhythms and air punching lyrics are still there and Rinehart is sublime as he growls and drawls his way across this slice of contemporary southern rock.
They skilfully negotiate the pitfalls of a Christian band playing to a wider audience by playing good old-fashioned rock, really well. ’A Place Only You Can Go’, could have drifted into mawkish sentimentality but the stripped down production takes it to another level. The single ’Slumber’ stomps its way to ’The Reckoning’, another big anthem from a band that does them so well. ‘Wanted Man’ actually gallops out of the speakers and ’Tyrant Kings’ manages to be a wistful, reflective anthem. Not as instantly likeable as The Outsiders this album is a slow burner but well worth the scorches.
2014 – Rivers in the Wasteland
Released earlier this year, this could be the strongest album lyrically with a much more subdued sound, quite refreshing after the big production on The Reckoning. Past troubles, that saw Joe Stillwell leave the band, seem to have left them in a thoughtful, reflective mood. They have all their influences on display here; punchy Americana to the Beach Boys via classic rock. This is their most overtly Christian album since The Heat. ’Multiplied’ is an out-and-out praise song.
The slow burning ’Wasteland’ is not your usual Needtobreathe opening track, acoustic and honest, a reflection of where the band have been over the last 2 years. It’s not all doom and gloom, ’The Heart’ and ’Where the Money Is’ will have you dancing. My current favourite is ’Difference Maker’, another reflective acoustic song; they played this at Oran Mór in 2012, just Bear at the front of the stage with an acoustic guitar and the guys singing backing. A haunting performance.
This year they play three UK dates on the sold out acoustic Wasteland tour; London, Belfast and Glasgow. I’ll see you at King Tut’s if you were lucky enough to get a ticket.