I first discovered Needtobreathe six years ago, opening for Will Hoge in the hills of Tennessee. Back then they were a five piece (why'd you have to leave, Nick?) and had one EP, an impressive compilation pieced together in bassist Seth's studio. Never before had I seen a band bursting with such potential. From lead guitarist Bo's unbridled joy for dancing to each and every tune, to drummer Joe's driving beats, to lead singer Bear's unmistakable presence and resounding voice, I was awestruck even then. When it was over, I was drawn to their merch table where they charmed their way into my heart even more upon discovering that Bear and Joe had recently graduated from Furman, which I had only just begun attending. It didn't take any convincing when they asked me to exchange phone numbers with the pianist (seriously, Nick, why?? we could have been so happy together!) so he could meet up with me to stuff mailboxes at school for their next concert in town. The rest is a history full of embarrassing moments being caught by Bo as I tried sneaking pictures of Nick (WHY?!) and gigs everywhere from frat parties to street festivals to Beach Weekend to lakeside serenades. Needtobreathe was synonymous with the college experience. They were the one band everyone at my school could agree on; a group that had us all in a tizzy when we heard they were coming home to Greenville. Whenever and wherever they took the stage with us in the audience, there was an uncanny sense of camaraderie between the band and the crowd. Needless to say, this band gives me a lot of nostalgic FEELINGS and I've seen them play live more than any other band (that's a lot, I assure you). I've watched their progression from doe-eyed no names sheepishly asking if I'd join their mailing list to the full-fledged Americana rockers I knew they could be from that very first impression. Last week they released their fourth album, The Reckoning, and once again I find myself at a loss for words, swelling with pride, and in a complete stupor over their staggering talent.
Each of their albums somehow manages to improve upon the last. And with their third album, The Outsiders, being such an impressive piece, it almost seemed too optimistic to expect the fourth record to truly blow me out of the water. But then I pressed play...
1. Oohs and Ahhs - JAW DROPPING GOODNESS! HOLY GUACAMOLE, THEY'VE DONE IT AGAIN! HOW ARE THEY EVEN REAL?!?! An explosive intro, complete with brass, which leaves you in no doubt of what's to come.
2. White Fences - Dance parties!!! Hands down my favorite i.e. where has this song been my entire life? This is the song I always needed, but didn't know I needed.
3. Drive All Night - Let's just say that when I went home to Georgia for the weekend, I had this song blaring, windows rolled down, hands out the window, absolutely squirming with delight. "I need somewhere I can drive all night, out into the darkness!" *SQUEE FEST*
4. A Place Only You Can Go - If you had told me that Needtobreathe were going to have a song with some sort of Celtic pipe I'd have said, 'Hey cool! But... how?' Now I know and my ears will never be the same. Genius.
5. Slumber - This song makes me want to throw off the covers, run dancing into the streets, and look for ways that I can do some good. Which, perhaps, is the point. And xylophones? Incredible!
6. The Reckoning - Harmonica! Harmonica! Har-mon-i-caaa!!! I could share an embarrassing story regarding harmonicas, Needtobreathe, and an all-through-college crush, but... suffice it to say I really love the harmonica and talking about it in great excess! It's the perfect touch to this sweeping number.
7. Able - A lovely tribute to their Southern roots and spiritual beliefs.
8. Maybe They're On To Us - A solid tune complete with electric guitar riffs and fervent vocals that will make you scream and shout.
9. Wanted Man - Bonnie and Clyde references, Seth's backup vocals, mmm... Stars in my eyes!
10. Keep Your Eyes Open - From the piano intro to the catchy chorus and inevitable fist pumping alone in the car, I'm toast when it comes to this one.
11. Tyrant Kings - So heartfelt, it just gives me a lot of feelings. A lot. of. feelings. And I love the staple Needtobreathe "whoas."
12. Devil's Been Talkin' - SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!! BANJOS! WHOAS! From the moment it starts, I want this layered song to be my lover man who takes me out dancing in fields all night long. ALL NIGHT LONG!
13. Angel At My Door - This, like so many others on this album, is what makes Needtobreathe so special. Their lyrics matter. They're about recognizing your flaws, deciding to be better, and moving on instead of dwelling on them. They're about finding hope in the right places and not letting painful downfalls tie you down.
14. Learn to Love - A beautiful ballad and ending that makes you *le sigh* and reflect a little before starting the album all over again.
Verdict: True love in a record! Buy it for your mother, father, neighbor, fictional boyfriend, roommate, and, heck, the grumpy bus driver. It has heart, focus, passion, drawl, rhythm, and drive. Essentially, it's too good not to share! Hands down my favorite album of the year.
P.S. Hear the boys talk about the record themselves: