Prime Cuts: Wasteland, Difference Maker, The Heart
Though NEEDTOBREATHE has often straddled successfully between the Christian and secular markets, their latest record "Rivers in the Wasteland" finds them traversing closer to their sacred roots. Though there's still enough material that could act as a passé-partout for both audiences, the album's titular is definitely a derivative from Scripture. Taken from Isaiah 43:19 where Yahweh promises Israel that He is about to do something new, making rivers out of wastelands, the songs of this new album are anchored upon such a promise. NEEDTOBREATHE consists of siblings Bear Rinehart (lead vocals, guitar) and Bo Rinehart (backing vocals, guitar) and their buddy Seth Both (backing vocals, bass). Their claim to fame came in 2006 when they were signed to Atlantic/Sparrow Records. Ever since, they have blessed us with hit singles such as the no.1 "Washed by the Water" and top 10 entries such as "Lay 'em Down" and "Something Beautiful."
Instead of opening the record with the standard fare blast of stadium rock fired with gigantic bedashes of guitar riffs, "Wasteland" opens the proceedings on a contemplative note. Reminding one of Bruce Springsteen in his "The Ghost of Tom Joad" days, "Wasteland" is a raw and roosty endeavor where the banjo takes as much airspace as the guitar. Nevertheless, don't let the subdued sound belie us from the song's heart hitting message. Written for those of us who feel like our lives are wasting away, NEEDTOBREATHE sensitively reminds us that God has not given up on us. Most moving are these lines: "In this wasteland where I'm livin', there's a crack in the door and it's filled with light, and it's all that I need to get by."
Hope continues to be the theme of the infectious "Rise Again." The tempo picks up with "State I'm In" and "The Heart." The former is a road house shuffle with a Beach Boys atmospheric sound. Similarly "The Heart" feels like it could have come out of the Hippie culture of the 60s. And if our faith is built up by hearing, then we can be ready for a six-packed faith physique if we put a song like "Difference Maker" on repeat. Faith has never been more eloquently put than these words: "Isn't it amazing how God can take a broken man, and let him find a fortune and then ruin it with his own two hands, and he climbs on up the hill on the Rock on which he stands, He looks back at the crowd he looks down at his hands and he says I am a Difference Maker, I am the only one who speaks to Him, and I am the friendliest of friends of God."
However, not every song here works: the rippling "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" finds the trio utilizing far too much Auto-voicing that they come across sounding unidentifiable, muffled into an electric mess that is uncalled for. Though the Police-style bass line of "Where the Money is" has an old fashioned 80s charm, the melody panders quite aimlessly. Nevertheless, what is most satisfying about "Rivers in the Wasteland" is that NEEDTOBREATHE are not afraid to be bold in expressing their belief in God and the truths found in Scripture. Gone are the thinly cloaked inspirational songs, and moving right in are songs that penetrate from the superficial to the eternal.