Folk rock has enjoyed an energetic resurgence in the early 2010s, with the likes of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers leading the clappin’, stompin’, banjo- and mandolin-strummin’ charge. It would be easy to say that NEEDTOBREATHE’s fifth effort, the largely acoustic Rivers in the Wasteland, is just another example of a band capitalizing on that sound du jour. But this alternative Christian rock act from Seneca, S.C., brings more to the musical table than just folksy strummings and stompings.
Indeed, Rivers in the Wasteland undulates to its own musical muse. Frontman Bear Rinehart possesses a potent, plaintive pair of vocal cords, his voice cut through with rawness. And lyrical themes revolve around desperation followed by redemption, feeling lost and being found.
There’s no sexual context given, but obscure lines on “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now” could be heard as suggestive: “I felt this moonlight/Reach down and touch me/I need another night/Before you leave.” The same could be said for “Oh, Carolina” when a man tells a woman, “When I get back home to you/We’re gonna start a fire.”
NEEDTOBREATHE’s 2011 album, The Reckoning, nearly undid the band. Critical acclaim, strong album sales and a big tour nearly tore everything apart. “There are opportunities that come along as a band gets bigger, and we certainly were faced with some—they just don’t feel right,” Bear Rinehart recently told Relevant magazine. “And the first time you make a decision that doesn’t feel right, it feels horrible. It caused an incredible amount of turmoil and soul searching. That’s what the wasteland is.”
Rinehart also noted how Old Testament imagery played an important part in shaping Rivers in the Wasteland. “We felt like we had a little bit of hope left but not a whole lot. Making this record … felt like something was coming out of nothing. We talk about the verse Isaiah 43:19 (‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland’). God is going to do something. He’s going to place a river in the wasteland, and that’s what this record really was about for us.”
NEEDTOBREATHE has clearly faced its share of arid days. But by the end of Rivers in the Wasteland, it seems equally clear that God has brought the members of this band through their personal desert to a place of satisfying provision. “Our faith has become much more a part of our decision making now,” Rinehart told Relevant. “Success has clouded that at times, but for us, it has to be at the top now. Our faith is the most important thing in our lives, and it’s definitely the most important thing in our career.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.