In the golden age of rock and roll, it was common for almost every artist to have a live album, and by that I mean the "we recorded the concert tonight and the record company is going to release it as an album" kind of concert recording. This includes bad notes, awkward stage banter and all, and if you turned it up loud in your living room, you could replicate the live experience to a minor degree. Christian music has far too few of these kinds of authentic, dust-in-the-grooves recordings, so it's refreshing to hear one from NEEDTOBREATHE, one of the best live bands going right now.
The intro to any concert is a key moment, and NEEDTOBREATHE blow it out of the water with "State I'm In," one of the most rocking moments from their latest album, Rivers In The Wasteland. But the first real hint that Live From The Woods is going to be a special concert recording is in the next song, "Wanted Man," from 2011's The Reckoning. Stretched to almost eight minutes and incorporating a new organ line that adds a bit of oomph to the song, "Wanted Man" goes through a few iterations over those eight minutes; from the rocking opening to an acoustic interlude that sees guitarist Bo Rinehart taking a soulful turn on vocals before the band abruptly stops playing, pauses for a dramatic few seconds, then launches back into the chorus with a renewed, manic thunder. Before it's over, the band has tagged the chorus of Modest Mouse's hit "Float On" to the end of the song in a creative fashion and livened up the audience to a manic roar in the process. All in all, it's a crazy and wonderful seven minutes and thirty-eight seconds, and it's only two songs into this double album.
The chilling "Difference Maker," a tune that is as heart-felt as it is subversive (lead singer Bear Rinehart is taking a shot at both his and other believer's tendencies to feel like they are doing real ministry when they are really serving themselves and their own egos), finds the band harmonizing up a storm while the audience sings along. The lyrics "we are all transgressors, we're all sinners, we're all astronauts, so if you're beating death than raise your hand, but shut up if you're not" are some of the most in-your-face words to come down the mainstream CCM pike in a long while, and the song is satisfyingly stretched out past the six-minute mark to raise its dramatic stakes. It's a concert highlight, and an emotional apex of the recording.
But it is far from the last one. "Wasteland" finds Bear testifying to the audience about the band's rough last few years in explaining the honest and emotionally resonant title track. Clocking in at almost seven minutes--with a soulful, gospel rave up at the end, worthy of classic U2--this take on the song shakes loose the muted studio version and lifts it up to the stratosphere. Current single "Brother" gets a fine acoustic (but no less powerful) reworking here, and lead album single "The Heart" rocks just about as hard as a band can rock and still be standing. The worshipful "Multiplied" is a great corporate worship moment and proves that vertical songs can be intelligent and creative and still singable by the average Joe in the audience.
By the time this double disc set of a concert is over with a mellow, harmonica-laden "More Heart, Less Attack" (imploring the people of God to be "more heart" and much "less attack"), it's clear that the boys from Possum Kingdom, South Carolina have put together one of the finest live albums in the world of Christian music. Only the odd choice to tack on a few "bonus" tracks at the end of the album mar what was a perfect game going into the ninth inning. But near-perfect is still worth it when considering getting those tickets when NEEDTOBREATHE comes to your town. They are quite simply a masterful live act.- Review date: 4/12/15, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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