- - Monday, September 19, 2011

The Reckoning

Needtobreathe

Atlantic Records

★★★½

Needtobreathe is either the most rocking Christian band or the most Christian rock band around. It’s hard to tell which. The guys have spent the past few years walking a fine line between the secular and the sacred, keeping enough religion in their lyrics to please their spiritual audience without scaring away those who choose to spend their Sunday mornings in bed, not in church.

“The Reckoning” doesn’t try to clear up any ambiguities. Technically, the Day of Reckoning is synonymous with Judgment Day, in which God essentially stops the clock and decides the fate of every human being. There are a few more allusions to the Bible scattered throughout the album, and the music itself - an elevated, amplified version of Southern roots-rock - is the sort of chest-thumping stuff that sounds good in churches and arenas alike. Still, there’s something about the band’s sound, whether it’s the emphasis on loud guitars or the boozy tilt of Bear Rinehart’s voice, that’s more indebted to rock ‘n’ roll than anything else.

At the end of the day, Needtobreathe’s church-going habits aren’t nearly as important as the actual songs, which are played with dramatic, hot-headed energy throughout this disc. Whenever Mr. Rinehart sings one of the louder songs, it sounds like he’s casting out demons, howling every melody with the gruff timbre and slight vibrato of a bluesman. The band even strikes up a demented carnival groove on the lead-off track, “Oohs and Ahhs.”

The real highlights, though, are the songs that show off the band’s heartland roots. “Drive All Night” has the epic sweep of a Bruce Springsteen tune. “A Place Only You Can Go” pairs acoustic guitar with bagpipes and fiddles. The title track, which seems to be more about proving your worth as a man than keeping yourself squared away with a higher power, conjures up images of some vast, open landscape.

“The Reckoning” is rock ‘n’ roll music with a moral compass.

SuperHeavy

SuperHeavy

A&M Records

★★

Some supergroups make total sense. Two decades ago, the Traveling Wilburys helped bridge the gap between classic genres - folk, rockabilly, early rock ‘n’ roll - and contemporary sounds. More recently, Velvet Revolver combined Guns N’ Roses with Stone Temple Pilots, revitalizing both bands during a lull in their careers.

If there’s one element tying those supergroups together, it’s the fact that each one was formed with a clear purpose. Velvet Revolver existed because the former members of Guns N’ Roses wanted to work with a vocalist who wasn’t as screwball as Axl Rose. Audioslave, essentially the combination of Soundgarden’s frontman with Rage Against the Machine’s instrumental section, was formed after Rage’s original singer quit the band. This brings us to SuperHeavy, whose purpose is a bit muddier.

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