Album Review by Jed Maynes of 360
RIVERS IN THE WASTELAND
3½ out of four cowbells
A common problem of many artists these days is the lyrics of a song dont match the mood of the music. Needtobreathe is far removed from this problem on its latest album, River in the Wasteland.
The South Carolina trio was once a quintet. The groups popularity rose quickly three years ago with the release of the underground hit The Reckoning, the bands fourth studio album. As with many others in the same situation (see: Mumford & Sons or the Avett Brothers), the band struggled with handling its mounting fame while maintaining its spirituality. After nearly breaking up over their differences, brothers Bear and Bryant (Bo) Rinehart, with their friend Seth Bolt, weathered the storm. The result is their most heartfelt album to date.
Rivers in the Wasteland continues the Southern rock-blues-gospel-folk hybrid Needtobreathe is known for, opening with a soft, melancholy track called Wasteland. Bear Rinehart keeps up his Joe Cocker impersonation for the cut as he laments the fading days of youth. The bands hardships seem to have helped him put things in perspective. Im the first one in line to die/when the cavalry comes Im wasting my way through days/losing my youth along the way.
From there, things only begin to look up literally. The band tosses aside any notion that theyre performing for money or fame: Long live the heart/long live the soul/that knows what it wants.
As the album progresses, the lyrics move from the wasteland of Earth heavenward. Its a beautiful tale of a man traveling a land of desperation and confusion before finding hope again. By the end track, More Heart, Less Attack, the man is headed down the river to where Im goin. Its a journey with spiritual overtones that may be too much for some, but you cant deny the Rineharts sincerity.
Complementing the albums lyrics, the bands music is more mature than ever. The soft opening touch of Wasteland quickly progresses into upbeat, foot-stomping tunes in which the beats are heavy and the guitars are fuzzy (check out State Im In and Feet, Dont Fail Me Now). The result is as though Mumford & Sons and the Black Keys got thrown into a blender and came out with a surprisingly tasty result.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this album is Needtobreathes pure, standard sound natural percussion, acoustic instruments and old-school Southern rock. With so many pop-rock masters flirting with electronic beats and synthesizers even in the country music scene Needtobreathe has a refreshing love affair with raw sounds. The musicians let loose in a musical crescendo in almost every song. The band even manages to build to a subtle high point in softer tunes such as Difference Maker. One mark of great songwriting is not needing to hide behind production.
The Carolina rockers do play it safe on this album: verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, interlude, chorus. The non-risk formula does get a bit monotonous, but Needtobreathe manages to pull it off, making Rivers in the Wasteland a catchy, thought-provoking journey that captures the spirit of the average American worn out on the American dream.
Maynes can be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2232. Follow him on Twitter @JedidiahBilliam.