The Rivers in the Wasteland album by South Carolinian group NEEDTOBREATHE is the diamond that came out of the darkest period in the bands history, and oh how it sparkles! NEEEDTOBREATHE were in a period of their career where they were finally getting the accolades they were due, following the success of their albums The Outsiders in 2009 with the single “Lay ‘em Down” and The Reckoning in 2011 with the single “Slumber.” The band toured hard, opening for acts such as Taylor Swift, and were bringing out great songs, however as chronicled in their rockumentary Prove the Poets Wrong it was the thing that nearly pulled the band apart from the inside out.
As Bono famously said at the end of the Rattle and Hum era, NEEDTOBREATHE had to “go away and… just dream it all up again.” But, unlike U2, instead of getting a bigger sound, the band chose to strip their sound back and rediscover their roots. They chose to redefine their idea of success and clarify who it was they were trying to please. These defining moments lead to the birth of the band’s best album so far and the rebirth of a newly found passion. In a sense, their dream had to die before it was able to be reborn.
Rivers in the Wasteland is an honest record both lyrically and musically. By stripping back the layers that they had previously added, NEEDTOBREATHE had to make sure that their sound was high quality, as there wasn’t the previous busyness of soundscape to hide behind. The result was great melodies and wonderfully constructed songs. This truly is a phoenix from the ashes.
Rivers in the Wasteland starts off resolutely with the track “Wasteland,” paving a road of hope as Bear Rinehart sings, “In this wasteland where I’m living / there is a crack in the door filed with light / and it’s all that I need to get by”. It begins with just a vocal and acoustic before slowly building to a big chorus.
NEEDTOBREATHE continue the album with all guns blazing as the next tracks give you a tour of Southern rock. “State I’m In” gives you a Chris Isaak-meets-Beach Boys feel, while “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” is a southern rocker infused with blues and driven by a determination to rock. It’s a southern church-like experience. Like a virus, it’s catching and the side effect is an uncontrollable foot tap.
NEEDTOBREATHE have grown as a band and as songwriters, and that’s shown by the fact that they can pull back with tracks like “The Difference Maker” and “Rise Again” without a flinch. These are songs that are well-crafted and well-balanced.
“The Heart” is the lead single of this album, and it really is the heart of the album. With a strong beat that carries the album forward, it’s everything you look forward to in a good song. It’s fun, it’s personal, it’s catchy, and you can’t help but smile when you’re singing lyrics like, “Can’t waste time when it comes time to dance”
It’s fair to say that NEEDTOBREATHE have finally found their voice. They have found their place in the wide and vast musical soundscape we all find ourselves in. Rivers in the Wasteland is an album with heart and drive and craftsmanship that only comes out of hard times and hard work. There is blood in the pages and callouses on their hands. The result is one of the most well-crafted albums that you may have never heard yet. While musically it sounds so simple in a lot of ways, the album is so complex in its layers both lyrically and musically, that it still keeps your interest for many, many listens.