Matt Nunez ‘12 | Editor-In-Chief
In the world of popular music, it can be pretty difficult to overcome the massive amount of stereotypes that come with being a Christian band. The artists feel restricted in their lyrical choice and are less willingly picked up by radio stations. So after Needtobreathe gained national respect as Christian artists after their second album, they didn’t hesitate to emphasize that they were and always had been a rock band, and a rock band only. On their fourth release, ‘The Reckoning,’ the boys from South Carolina break their Christian roots and put all of their energy into their music and show why they are one of the most creative bands around right now.
Coming out of rural South Carolina with a father as a preacher, brothers Bo (guitarist) and Bear (singer) Rhinehart were determined to show the world their cultural upbringing. Their first album, ‘Daylight,’ was released in 2006 and followed along the alternative-rock path set forth by groups such as Snow Patrol. With their sophomore release, ‘The Heat’ (2007), Needtobreathe saw some more critical acclaim for their new, more acoustic gospel focus. “Washed by the Water” reached #1 on the Christian charts and helped propel them to Group of the Year at the annual Dove Awards. As the Christian community slowly started to pull them in, they quickly broke out with ‘The Outsiders’ (2009), a record that highlights the Southern roots of the band and adds some true rock & roll flare to their setlists. “Something Beautiful” became the band’s largest hit to date and became a standard on SiriusXM Top 40 radio. The rest of the album included extensive banjo use (title track) and even honky-tonk piano on “Girl From Tennessee”. After making a name for themselves touring as supporting artists for Train and Taylor Swift, Needtobreathe decided to take their creative skills to the next level with The Reckoning, which was released on September 20th.
Mandolins, bagpipes, trumpets, and of course banjos all contribute to the musical context of the new album and make ‘The Reckoning’ Needtobreathe’s most ambitious project to date. The first track of the album, “Oohs and Ahhs”, begins as an acoustic bass line but builds into a raucous blend of distortion and drums that sets the energy of the album. The loud noises are soon complemented by the acoustic patterns of “White Fences”. The first single from the album, “Slumber” comes a few tracks later and is driven by a powerful melody and even blend of acoustic and electric guitars. The next song, “The Reckoning” is the band’s reflection on growing out of obscurity and is the biggest anthem on the album. “Able” is an experimental piano ballad that sounds an awful lot like the band’s contemporary counterparts Mumford & Sons before breaking into a more “country road” reflection. The calm demeanor of the song is soon forgotten once “Maybe They’re Onto Us” begins. “Wanted Man” comes next, with a musical texture that rivals OneRepublic’s “Good Life” for feel-good song of the year. The true Needtobreathe sound is reflected later in “Devil’s Been Talkin,’” a banjo-inspired tune that features a deep, rich context of musical variety and an incredible chorus of voices. The album ends on a more reflective note with “Learn to Love,” a duet with Ella Mae Bowen, a solo country singer. It is the perfect end to an album that captures the highs and lows of being a traveling band who is built off of Christian roots, which although less obvious, are still prevalent on the album.
By a mere creativity standpoint, Needtobreathe is miles ahead of their generation of musicians, who are more inclined to have others write their songs and provide generic beats to sing along to. Although hearing such sounds as a banjo, mandolin, or trumpet along with Christian lyrics, it is unmistakable after hearing them that Needtobreathe is a true rock band. Lead singer Bear Rhinehart’s powerful voice is without a doubt the driving force in the band, a quality that has been passed through only a few other rock artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. The band is currently touring as the supporting act for Taylor Swift and is playing in some of the biggest stadiums in America. On September 14th, they also made their national network debut with a guest performance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Rumor has it that they will be heading out for a solo tour next Spring so keep your eyes pealed for signs that Needtobreathe is coming to town. If I were to guess, I would say that they’ll become much easier to spot over the next few months.