How much substance is there behind the hype?
If you're a fiercely attentive Christian music fan- the kind that visits CCMmagazine.com weekly, even daily- there's a good chance you're already anticipating the April 4th release of NEEDTOBREATHE's major label debut. Why? You know that when Lava/Atlantic flipped over the band and offered them a contract, the South Carolina-based boys insisted they be allowed to simultaneously sign with a Christian label of their choice. And the recipient of NEEDTOBREATHE's favor? Sparrow Records.
Sure, that scenario piqued your curiosity, but before you would highlight "April 4" on your calendar, you needed to know more. Did you investigate further and discover that sibling bandleaders Bear and Bo Rinehart were raised in a Christian home where, for many years, they were only allowed to listen to Christian music?
By the age of 17, Bear was a serious guitarist and writing songs, and Bo quickly followed in his footsteps- sort of
Bo decided to go the self-taught-make-your-own-rules route and, as a result, his creatively eccentric style of play includes picking up rather than down with the guitar pick.
Skip ahead several years- just past college- to the summer of 2005. NEEDTOBREATHE, which had formed some years earlier, was rounded out by drummer Joe Stillwell and bassist Seth Bolt. The band already had three indie EPs under its belt and was ready to record for a major label. So the lads did what any Christian-music-bred band would do- they caught the next flight to Nashville to cut their album... Um, hardly.
The plane tickets they purchased read, "Destination: England." Not only that, when NEEDTOBREATHE arrived in the U.K., it headed out into the countryside to a studio where renowned producer Andy Green (Keane, KT Tunstall) awaited its arrival.
And the result? Well, that's what all the fuss is about. (That and the band's live show.)
As a full-length debut, NEEDTOBREATHE's Daylight is both surprising and engaging musically. The album- as in every song- is defined by both sweeping hooks and an emphasis on melody, whether via Bear's rich, versatile vocals, his piano playing or the brothers' divergent but complementary guitar styles.
And how does the album surprise? Simply put, Daylight is so deep on potential rock radio singles, this disc would make a good "best of" album for a lot of other bands. (Did I mention this is a debut?)
NEEDTOBREATHE is obviously indebted to Andy Green, who's delivered a masterful production. Daylight thrives on driving, emotive rock & roll that's stylishly presented with the aesthetic and precision of a studio wizard. Yes, it smells of big bucks and great care.
While Daylight strikes a familiar chord across the board, the band's style isn't reminiscent of a specific band or two so much as a regional rock sound. The impressive rhythm section of Stillwell and Bolt may be extremely direct, but the Rinehart brothers take a distinctly European approach. While their guitars are often up front and sound "big," the album is lavished in skillful, ambient playing as the siblings make great use of space.
As far as shortcomings go, you'll have to dig to find one with Daylight. That said, many aficionados who relish thoughtful, compelling songwriting will be left wanting. Believers may immediately connect with lyrics such as "Seas of everlasting grace/ Fall down upon this sinner's face
" from the album's musically representative lead single, "You Are Here." And the same goes for the piano-entwined "Don't Leave Just Yet" in which Bear acknowledges, "I know we don't separate/But my sins are in the way/And I know that you don't let me get away too far
" But if you thrive on poignant wordplay or memorable storytelling, you'll need to look elsewhere. While the lyrics are hope-filled and technically poetic, they are positioned the same way in every track- literally each song is sung specifically to a "you." The only diversity in that regard centers around who "you" may be. For instance, in "Haley," Bear sings over an acoustic guitar to a romantic love interest, while in straight-ahead rocker "Shine On," he portrays God singing encouragement to a disheartened believer.
The good news, here, is NEEDTOBREATHE's lyricism shows significant potential. And given the artful approach the band takes with its music, you can't help but hope for a legacy defined by songs every bit as memorable for what they communicate as for how great they sound.
JAY SWARTZENDRUBER CCMMagazine.com