Review: Need To Breathe – The Outsiders (2009)

needtobreathetheoutsidersNeed to BreatheThe Outsiders (2009)
Atlantic Records

Need To Breathe is:
Bear Rinehart – vocals, guitar, piano
Bo Rinehart – guitar, vocals
Seth Bolt – bass, vocals
Joe Stillwell – drums, vocals

It happens all the time: A minor league player makes it to the majors.  An actress gets her big break.  A boy becomes a man.  The Outsiders serves as the announcement that Need To Breathe has made it to the big leagues.  They are making the rules now, beholden to no one else.  Musically, thematically, The Outsiders is a declaration that this band has no intention of fitting in, being labeled, or taking the easy road.  Their music has never sounded this fresh, this authentic, or this natural.  This is the music that has been flowing in their blood from the beginning; it only took 3 albums to get it out.  Their debut album, Daylight, was all climactic epics, with very little subtlety or nuance.  They sounded great, but too many songs sounded too much like the previous song, and very few of the songs gave the listener much context as to what exactly they were singing about.  Many of those problems were fixed with their impressive sophomore release, The Heat.  The band poured more of themselves into the record, drawing from their southern heritage for much of its sound.  They had not yet arrived, but they were on their way. 

Well, the wait is over.  This is a band that knows exactly who they are and they are eager to tell the world.  If you are a fan of the previous two albums, don’t worry; there are plenty of their signature sounds and structures.  They are a pop band, after all, and that means that plenty of songs have big hooks, big emotions, and bigger sounds.  As they did with The Heat, they have incorporated a variety of new instruments to fill every corner of sound with something to enjoy.  Banjo, mandolin, harmonica, organ, and piano are all in heavy rotation throughout the album.  From the gospel infused Lay ‘Em Down to the beautifully simple bluegrass duet Stones Under Rushing Waters with Sarah Watkins of Nickel Creek fame, the band refuses to be categorized or boxed in.  You want a bigger than life, arena ready, epic?  They give you These Hard Times.  You want a bluesy, toe tapping, rockabilly tune?  Girl Named Tennessee fits the bill quite nicely.  If you are looking for a 1980’s Peter Gabriel/U2 mash-up, with pounding drums and big vocals, Through Smoke is the song for you. 

There are 14 songs on the album and all but one or two deliver.  Of the two misfires, I only fault them for What You’ve Done to Me, simply because it sounds like something they have done before and to be honest, it’s just not that good of a song.  Hurricane is an interesting idea, and parts of the song are amazing, but the chorus lacks the ability to bring it all together.  With that said, two out of 14 isn’t a bad average, and they more than make up for the weaker tracks on songs like Prisoner, the throwback blues number that had my entire family dancing around the living room like idiots, and the cascading anthem, Let Us Love, which takes a left turn in the last minute of the song that is both inspiring and a bit shocking knowing their track record.  It’s a daring choice and I applaud them for it. 

Lyrically, their songs have never been more poetic or more relevant.  They deal with themes of faith amidst doubt, building a legacy to be proud of, not conforming to the world’s expectations, and standing your ground in the face of opposition.  They are quick to recognize their own failings and shortcomings, which gives the album an openness and honesty that is lacking in many mainstream pop albums.  It is mature work by a band that is totally comfortable in their own skin.  Bear, Bo, Seth, and Joe have made an album that is impossible to classify, yet completely accessible.  This album has positioned them for big time success, yet they did it by digging deeper into who they are as musicians, and not by selling out.  They are firmly on the outside and the view truly is something beautiful. 

8.9 out of 10.0

Download now:  Through Smoke, Prisoner, Let Us Love, Lay ‘Em Down

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