By: Ruby H. Warren
Star Rating: 3.5/5
Before I get too much into the album, I want to preface this by saying that I have been a fan of NEEDTOBREATHE since junior high and have seen them live on two separate occasions. The first was for my 15th birthday as they headlined the Tour De Compadres tour in 2016 with Mat Kearney, John Mark McMillan, and Welshly Arms; the second time I saw them live was in 2018 when they headlined the Forever on Your Side tour with Johnnyswim and Forest Blakk.
NEEDTOBREATHE’s first album, Daylight, was released in 2006 and ever since then the band has had a continuous but steady climb to success over the last fifteen years. Now, though, most bands who stand the test of time (i.e. egos, trash pop, and airheads) find themselves having to reinvent their sound over and over again to stay relevant, NEEDTOBREATHE has only been themselves. Each album hits the sweet spot between lovely stripped down ballads young couples dream to dance to in the kitchen after a romantic homemade candlelit dinner mixed with a couple of pretty solid bangers that you embarrassingly dance to alone in your room as you lip-sync into a hairbrush. Their latest release fits the bill perfectly.
Into the Mystery is the band’s eighth studio album and after the success of their 2016 release, Hard Love, which is what really put them on the map, the bar was high (note: ignoring the 2020 release due to the lack of promotion due to COVID-19).
From the first line that Bear Rinehart (vocalist/guitarist) muttered, I knew I was in love with yet another NEEDTOBREATHE album. The warmth and fullness that his voice adds, especially to simpler songs like “What I’m Here For”, is moving on such a spiritual level that it feels like you’re at church. Rinehart sings from the soul and you can feel it.
There are also three collaborations on this album that deserve recognition: “Carry Me” features Jon Foreman of Switchfoot; “Don’t Throw All The Good Things Away” features beloved songwriter and vocalist of The Highwomen, Natalie Hemby; “I Wanna Remember” features Carrie Underwood.
These three songs perfectly exemplify the vastness and variety that this album has to offer listeners. On the basis of sound, “Carry Me” is the truest to ‘classic’ NEEDTOBREATHE. The way the song builds up through the first chorus, tapers off during the second verse, where we then get a bit of variation during the bridge, all before the big vocal finale on Rinehart’s part is such a traditional songwriting recipe for this band (see: Testify from Hard Love in 2016, The Heart from Rivers in the Wasteland in 2014, and tracks five and ten off this album). The only difference in set up from “Carry Me’ and “I Wanna Remember” is the addition of Carrie Underwood’s powerhouse vocals. With any song Underwood is on though, “I Wanna Remember” feels like a punch to the gut (in a good way). However, their collaboration with Ms. Hemby might be one of the most vulnerable songs they have ever released. The strings in this song-in addition to the piano accompanying the voices of Hemby and Rinehart-flooded my heart with emotion. It’s one of those songs that you can listen to in the dark, with your eyes closed, and you can practically see a movie in your head of what this song is about.
As NEEDTOBREATHE magically toes the line between powerfully performed and powerfully written, they almost always put a tearjerker on their albums (see: “Difference Maker” from Rivers in the Wasteland, “Who Am I” from Out of Body, and “Be Here Long” from Hard Love). This album’s song that made me feel as if it was written by someone who had stolen my diary was the last track on the record called “West Texas Wind”. The song, for the most part, is just Rinehart, backing vocals, and a piano. Though this song feels as if it’s a cry for help when you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s a beauty to that level of pain (in song) that makes it feel almost rejuvenating. Almost as if you can start anew.
That’s the beauty to this record and to NEEDTOBREATHE in general. There are never any expectations from the artist or audience, except to feel the music and let it be. There’s a purity to making (and consuming) music for the sake of it feeding a need within your soul. Music brings people together and I cannot wait to see this record performed live.
If you like this album, try:
- Revelation by Sons of Sylvia (2010): falls pretty dead center in the “Christian artists who make alt-rock music” spectrum of music
- That Would Be Me by Harry Connick Jr. (2015): might be a stretch, as this is Connick Jr.’s most secular but NOLA-inspired album. Regardless, it’s equally as bluesy and I love it
- We’re All Gonna Die by Dawes (2016): much more indie/folks and is right outside of the comfort zone that Needtobreathe falls under, but definitely worth a shot