3 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
NEEDTOBREATHE frontman Bear Rinehart used the COVID lockdown to take a few extra breaths and resuscitate his Wilder Woods side project. That band, titled after the first names of two of his sons Wilder and Woods (he has another child named Water, keeping the “w” thing going), released its debut in 2019.
True to form for a frontman who goes solo (NEEDTOBREATHE started in 2001), Wilder Woods’ first album was a low-key, soulful affair, far removed from the arena rock gestures that make NEEDTOBREATHE large venue headliners. For its follow-up, Rinehart changes most of the players from the previous lineup, keeping Breathes’ guitarist Tyler Burkum and utilizing Cason Cooley, Breathe’s engineer, to work the boards.
Perhaps not surprisingly the sound is closer to, although still distinct from, Rinehart’s full-time gig. Soulful moments remain, specifically in the Motown stomp of the opening “Maestro (Tears Don’t Lie)” which seems like a leftover from the last set, and the percussive pop rocker “Criminal.” But these choruses are generally grander and more sing-along than the intimate moments peppering the last release.
Rinehart’s voice is resilient and distinctive singing these captivating originals, especially when working a stripped-down, pop-worthy groove like the hooky “Get It Back.” The tunes also click as they edge towards the R&B-tinged, Curtis Mayfield-inflected “Death of Me” or lean into a rustic vibe such as the gospel-styled “Heartland” where the singer wants to return to Howling at the moonlight sleeping underneath the stars.
A touch of John Mayer appears in the pure melodicism of “Be Yourself” where Rinehart spotlights Cooley’s piano, reassuring a lover to be honest regardless of the consequences with Say what you want /I don’t care where it goes/If I’m gonna love you completely We gotta let it all show. The closing ballad “Make Your Own Mistakes” is a letter of sorts, encouraging his sons to find their distinct way in the world. It connects with subtle power, enhanced by ghostly backing vocals and guest Carl Broemel’s (My Morning Jacket) haunting steel guitar.
While not as removed from NEEDTOBREATHE’s style as before, Wilder Woods’ second stab is as meticulously crafted as that band’s music. It’s more introspective and a moving, passionate collection which hopefully results in more of the same.
If he has time.
Photo courtesy All Eyes Media