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JFH Music Review

NEEDTOBREATHE, Rivers In The Wasteland

Rivers In The Wasteland

Artist Info: Discography
Genre(s): Southern Rock / Alternative / Folk Rock
Album length: 11 tracks: 45 minutes, 16 seconds
Street Date: April 15, 2014

These days, it's not so rare for a band of Needtobreathe's talent to take a few years between releases and still have each one warmly welcomed, but the intervening years since courting arenas with Taylor Swift and releasing their biggest crossover album to date have been fraught with secret struggles. First, the departure of founding drummer Joe Stillwell came as a bit of a shock to their fans. Since then, the band has continued to tour and test new songs, though details of a new album remained quiet.

At the end of last year, the release of their tour documentary Prove the Poets Wrong broke the silence with an unflinching glimpse into the true story of Needtobreathe's past few years. Though in the midst of the most commercial success of their career, the band was falling apart inside. The film also brought the announcement of their new album, and such a candid look at those tumultuous years provides a richer context for Rivers in the Wasteland.

Though The Reckoning was perhaps Needtobreathe's biggest release, both in terms of sound and commercial acceptance, Rivers feels like the truest album they've made in years. Scaling back the aspiring arena anthems in favor of a stripped down approach, Rivers is a return to their roots that finds the band at the musical top of their game, with inspiration coming from many directions, from Beach Boys harmonies and grungy classic rock to Americana country and everything in between. The songwriting itself feels like a homecoming, or at least the journey back.

From the very start, Rivers in the Wasteland is different. While prior albums would favor a raucous opener like The Reckoning's edgy and dark power rocker "Oohs and Ahhs," this time "Wasteland," a slow burning acoustic ballad, leads the way, a testament to where the band has been and where they're going. In a voice wrung with emotion, Bear Rhinehart delivers a vulnerable introduction: "There was a greatness I felt for a while / But somehow it changed / Some kind of blindness I used to protect me / From all of my stains." It has a welcome weariness and honesty, before melting into the upbeat harmonies of "State I'm In." The overall vibe of the album is longing, humility, and a sense of being broken and redeemed.

In "Difference Maker," Bear ponders, "Isn't it amazing how a God can take a broken man / Let him find a fortune, let him ruin it with his own two hands," a worthy question in light of their story. "Rise Again" looks back on a relationship on the verge of self-destruction, while "Oh Carolina" serves as a love letter to their home and simpler times, written in rootsy country fashion. Though somber at times, there is still plenty of joy to be found in fun, danceable tracks like "The Heart" and "Where the Money Is," songs with a happiness that can't be manufactured for a pop hit. And that is this record's greatest strength; it comes by its wide emotional range honestly.

It's also interesting to note that while The Reckoning was certainly Christ-haunted, Rivers invokes some of their most expressly faith-driven songwriting since The Heat. In recent interviews, the band has expressed that the return to their roots includes making God more central to their music again, but they neither take a deliberate CCM approach nor hide behind the "we're Christians in a band" attitude. When Bear sings "Oh if God is on my side, who can be against me?" you know it's an honest expression of trust. "Multiplied" is unique in that it's the closest they've come writing a worship song since "Signature of the Divine," and yet the swirling harmonies and musical atmosphere take it to an artistically transcendent place. For an album born out of the band's near destruction, it's ultimately redemptive and joyful, filled with personal songs that don't hide behind vague lyrics or rock star ambitions.

It's easy to slip into the cliche that an album was "worth the wait," but in this case, it's true. Rivers in the Wasteland represents an already great band at their finest, a welcome return for the South Carolina boys, and already one of the best releases of 2014 so far.

- Preview Review date: 3/2/14; Review date: 4/13/14, written by Jen Rose of

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JFH Staff's Second Opinion

As a fan of Needtobreathe's previous work, the past two and a half years have been a roller coaster of anticipation and worry. The Reckoning was my favorite album of 2011 and I could not wait for more from Seth, Joe and the Rinehart brothers. A year later, Joe announced his departure from the band. Then came last year's documentary, Prove the Poets Wrong, a candid behind-the-scenes look at the band's history and near-demise. Despite the ups and down, Needtobreathe has pushed through and created some of their finest work to date. The appropriately titled Rivers in the Wasteland is a tale of redemption and perseverance. The lyrics are transparent and often worshipful. The southern rock sound they are known for is executed nicely and has enough variety to make each song stand out. The album opens with the contemplative "Wasteland" then moves to the catchy "State I'm In." An aggressive rocker, "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," follows. Later on, there are songs that drift further towards a country vibe and then those that tap into the folk genre. This diversity keeps the album interesting without ever feeling chaotic. While it may not have as much mainstream appeal as The Reckoning, you can still expect to see Needtobreathe's name on many "best-of" lists this year. - Review date: 4/14/14, Jerold Wallace


JFH Staff's Additional 2 Cents

    With three years since The Reckoning, NEEDTOBREATHE have built up great anticipation for the long-delayed Rivers In The Wasteland. A neatly trimmed eleven-song track list (as opposed to the 14 songs for each of the past three albums) allows NEEDTOBREATHE to create a slightly tighter effort that offers up their signature southern rock/folk sound without a hint of filler in the bunch. Rivers... brings the rock a little more often than on previous albums too, with catchy tracks like "State I'm In," "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," and "Where The Money Is" being especially satisfying. And if that wasn't enough, the band surprises with an unabashed praise song in "Multiplied," which defies the genre's tired mold to deliver one of the best worship songs to come along in a very, very long time. Rivers In The Wasteland is a refreshing listening experience and easily an early contender for one of 2014's top releases. - 4/13/14, John DiBiase of

    Rivers in the Wasteland feels like a revival for Needtobreathe. While The Reckoning was a brilliant album, the years following its release were often as dark for the band as the album itself. This album is Needtobreathe's new birth. It's upbeat and optimistic, full of life and energy. From the carefree spirit of "The Heart," to the captivatingly worshipful "Multiplied," and everything in between, the spirit of the album is pitch perfect. Capping it all off is "Difference Maker," a profound, challenging piece about the pitfalls of arrogance and isolation. It sounds like a confession of where the band has come from. Thankfully they're beyond that now, and Rivers in the Wasteland is phenomenal. - 1/13/14, Timothy Estabrooks of



. Record Label: Atlantic Records / Word
. Album length: 11 tracks: 45 minutes, 16 seconds
. Street Date: April 15, 2014
. Buy It:
. Buy It: iTunes
. Buy It: Amazon Music (MP3)
. Buy It: (CD)
. Buy It: (Vinyl)

  1. Wasteland (4:29)
  2. State I'm In (3:18)
  3. Feet Don't Fail Me Now (3:43)
  4. Oh Carolina (3:26)
  5. Difference Maker (5:38)
  6. Rise Again (3:17)
  7. The Heart (3:44)
  8. Where The Money Is (3:29)
  9. Multiplied (4:34)
  10. Brother (4:48)
  11. More Heart, Less Attack (4:56)
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