Category Archives: Music

“Rivers” runs simpler for NEEDTOBREATHE



By: Michael Simmelink

With more anticipation than ever before, NEEDTOBREATHE has released “Rivers in the Wasteland,” their fifth studio album. The guys have spent the better part of the last three years touring almost nonstop, making appearances at Bonnaroo and opening for Taylor Swift on her North American tour. 2011’s “The Reckoning” put NEEDTORBEATHE on the radar as a unique mix of gospel, bluegrass, country, and rock-n-roll that mainstream radio, Christian or secular, hadn’t given ear to.

Such a fast moving ascension to nationwide fame did not come without a price for the South Carolina natives. Through interviews with Billboard and RELEVANT magazine, the band revealed that the growth in popularity became overwhelming. Long beloved for their down-to-earth, home-grown material, the group had lost sight of their roots. Therefore, “Rivers in the Wasteland” is an album about removal of stuff that had gotten in the way. The record as whole is just so much less than “The Reckoning.” The sound isn’t as big. The songs have less instrumentation. Eleven tracks are the smallest number put on an album since 2006’s opening release, “Daylight.”

Yet it might be the tightest album NEEDTOBREATHE has put together. All four of their other records had themes or motifs, but there wasn’t necessarily a flow or reason for why songs we put in a certain order. “Rivers” is best heard with the shuffle button off. It is a record that is reflective on what the band has gone through in the past year and a half, according to lead singer Bear Rinehart in the album’s commentary. One needs to start with the opening and track “Wasteland” to understand that band was in a place of darkness and aridness. There are hints of the arena-rock feel of “The Reckoning” within the track, but it is only meant to set the stage of what is to come.

The album is split almost in half with what could be considered the wasteland portion versus the river portion. “State I’m In” and “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now” are solid southern rock jams that keep the wasteland from feeling depressing, but Rinehart’s lyrics foreshadow something better on the way. “Oh, Carolina” is an obvious ode to home that features some of the best harmonies on the album. It’s seems like a song you’d strum on the family six-string on a porch on a summer night. I don’t know if that’s something anybody actually does, but the song evokes a hope within that it happens somewhere.

Transition finds the record in the middle with “Difference Maker” and “Rise Again.” The former very well might go down as everyone’s favorite off the album. The lyrical make-up of the song makes it extremely personal for the listener. You may not be able to relate with many of the hardships of touring in a band, but you can definitely find a connection with the struggle to realize your purpose and value in the world. The instrumentation is quite repetitive and simple, but by the last verse, it becomes hard to plainly sing along with lyrics like, “We are all transgressors, we’re all sinners, we’re all astronauts / So if you’re beating death then raise your hand, but shut up if you’re not.” Those words don’t get sung except through gritted teeth.

As the river section begins to emerge, listeners find “The Heart.” It’s currently the most prominent single from the record. Classic NEEDTOBREATHE. A track full of swinging southern rock catalyzed by catchy chorus and Bear’s gritty vocals somehow reaching a full octave higher than it should. Instrumentally, it’s one of the more complex tracks on the album.

Near the end, a listener may be tempted to pass lightly over “Brother.” I have a reoccurring nightmare this song will be tragically overlooked on the album, one of the many similarities it shares with “Preacher” off OneRepublic’s 2013 release, “Natives.” Bear and Bo Rinehart very rarely make it obvious in their music that they are, in fact, brothers, but it doesn’t get more blatant than this. The usual route to take on songs like this is a simple guitar as the siblings’ duet. Thankfully, the Rinehart boys put a little more thought into it. A choir-backed chorus and piano-centered beat makes the song more like an Elton John classic than you’d ever guess. I give it the nod as my personal favorite on the album.

On the whole, NEEDTOBREATHE went simpler in almost every way on this– instrumentally, in quantity, theologically. But it’s what we needed from them. For them to make something bigger and continue expanding like “The Outsiders” and “The Reckoning” would have taken away what was likeable about them in the first place. This release is well-worth the money and time for fans who have been with NEEDTOBREATHE for a while, and could potentially garner new ones along the way.

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On that one Frozen song that everyone loves

Elsa%27s_lossBy: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf

*Spoiler warning*

By now you’ve heard it.  “Let it Go.”  Easily the most viral song from Disney’s recent animated film Frozen.  At a first glance, this song seems to be about being yourself, refusing to be burdened by what others care about who you really are.  It seems empowering, strengthening, fierce.  The only legitimate complaint that I’ve ever heard placed against this song is one that I just recently read from a friend on Facebook: the song was placed inappropriately.  Elsa had not yet earned the right to sing “Let it Go,” that she had not yet become confident enough, strong enough, to belt out this anthem.  I can understand why some, perhaps many, feel this way.  At a first glance, the song is about freedom, about beginning to feel comfortable in one’s own skin.  To me, however, this particular song represents something else, and to me, she has more than earned the right to sing it.

Consider the song for a moment.  It begins with a terrified Elsa fleeing from a crowd of villagers amid shouts that she is a monster, a witch, a villain.  This girl Elsa has been told since her earliest childhood that there is something wrong with her, something that will cause people to fear and hate her if discovered.  As she grows further from the village, suddenly the urge overcomes her to not control it anymore – to let it go.  Elsa begins playing with her ice powers – tentatively at first, but then more and more as she realizes what she can really do.  She continues fleeing into the wilderness and up a mountain, where she builds a wondrous frozen castle, a monument to her power.  A monument to her vanity.  A monument to her isolation.  By the end of the song, we see what we understand to be a powerful Elsa, an Elsa who really doesn’t care about anyone else.  But that’s kind of the key, isn’t it?  She’s stopped caring about anyone but herself.  Her idea of letting it go involves living alone and never having to deal with other people.  To some, this seems a stark contrast to the very spirit of the song.  To me, it hit so hard I began shaking within the theatre as I continued to watch.  To me, it wasn’t about freedom.  It was about giving into one’s deepest fears, fleeing from anyone and everyone, living alone and trying to convince oneself that such a life is freedom.  I struggled not to weep.

If you’ve read some of the other things I have written, you may have picked up on the notion that I’m not good with people.  The notion that I have trouble forming friendships, keeping friendships.  If you’ve read my six-part story I posted on the Cardboard blog last fall, you know just how deeply this social underdevelopment has troubled my life.  Now, let me make something clear to you that I have only hinted at in the past.  I have autism.  Because I did so well in school, it never occurred to anyone that my delayed social development might be evidence of something more serious.  So as I grew up, I knew nothing more than that something was terribly wrong and different about me.  So when I watched this movie Frozen, I didn’t see a story about a  princess with incredible ice powers.  I saw a story about a young girl who had been told all her life that she wasn’t ok, that she was different and different was bad.  When I saw her hiding in her bedroom refusing to build a snowman, I saw myself hiding in my bedroom refusing to go out and spend time with friends.  When I saw her fleeing into the mountains, I saw myself shutting out anyone who began to see me for who I really am.  And when I saw her captured and dragged back to prison, informed that her sister was dead, I saw myself locked in my room at a hospital, knowing full well that I’d never be talking to one of my closest friends ever again.  So you see, this is why I love the movie Frozen.  I don’t think it is meant to be an empowerment movie.  To me, it is about facing one’s deepest, innermost fears, the fears that can cause a person to shut oneself off from the rest of society.  It is about struggling with those fears, conquering them, overcoming them, even if only by the force of another.  And this is why I love the song “Let it Go.”  I don’t think it is meant to be an empowerment song.  It simply reflects the desperate need of a psychologically abused young lady to believe that for once in her life she is not afraid of who she is.  And its placement is so perfect I still begin to shake at that moment.


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Look at the Lyrics: Above All

By: Michael Simmelink

The lyrics to our praise songs matter. They put the words in our mouth to describe God. Who He is, what He’s done, how we react are all depicted in song. Christians need to take this seriously and start thinking about what we’re singing. Does it line up with Scripture? Do we believe this is how God interacts with His creation? If not, then maybe we aren’t really talking about Yahweh at all.

To pick out a single song and critique an artist is unfair. Most songwriters compile multiple CDs that cover a whole range of topics, feelings, subjects, and emotions. Most are perfectly orthodox and add to our spiritual life.

The problem is we don’t sing albums in church; we sing songs from different artists, splicing them off a record and matching them with similar songs to fit a service. It’s not ideal, and it can lead to an incomplete or distorted theology.  Here’s an example of how I would break down the lyrics of “Above All,” by Michael W. Smith.

Above all powers
Above all kings
Above all nature
And all created things
Above all wisdom
And all the ways of man
You were here
Before the world began

Above all kingdoms
Above all thrones
Above all wonders
The world has ever known
Above all wealth
And treasures of the earth
There’s no way to measure
What You’re worth

Laid behind a stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all

Overt Message:
Michael W. Smith is emphasizing the sovereignty and power of God. The Almighty ranks number one in any of the categories listed in the song. We simply cannot comprehend God because He has always been (you were here / before the world began) so much more than we can grasp.

Subtle Message:
The challenge with glorifying God in the way Smith does (constantly using “above all”) is it can be hard to do without distancing God from humanity. God is loftier than humanity, but does that necessarily mean He is above us? I worry about what it infers to repeatedly use words that puts God overhead of us, up in the sky. The truth is God is in our midst right now. He’s on the ground with us, surrounding our hands as we work the soil.

Smith’s chorus in this song makes a shift from the glory of God to specifically the glory revealed in the coming of Jesus Christ. As is the tendency with most contemporary songs, the heart of the lyrics are Christocentric, or focusing on the Son of the Trinity. This isn’t a bad thing, but it seems to be severely limited in its scope of what Jesus did. Every part of the chorus has to do with Christ’s death and absolutely nothing about His resurrection. Were we atoned to God when Jesus breathed His last breath, or was it when He rolled away the stone? We do not rejoice on Good Friday, but rather shout from the hilltops on Easter Sunday. It is the resurrection that gives us our chance to be reconciled with God. Jesus absorbing the hit (trampled on the ground / you took the fall) is useless with His resurrection.

Almost all contemporary praise songs are guilty of the next charge. Singular pronouns are the only kind used in this whole song. Not once is there a mention of we, us, our. It isolates the relationship between Jesus and each individual sinner. The reality is that Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” He didn’t call out the Romans by name, why would He do anything differently for the rest? Is it realistic to think that Jesus went through every person to ever live, including 21st century Americans, and actually thought of individuals as He died on the cross? That sounds very egocentric and more of a reflection on our “me-first” culture than what the Bible has to teach.

Let’s remember these things so we glorify God in a way that also keeps in mind what He did in the incarnation.


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7 Rules for Proper Communal-Worship Behavior

Photo cred: Kevin Spear

Photo cred: Kevin Spear

By: Nick “Tapobu” Rohlf

So-called “worship-music” sessions are fairly common. More than likely, you’ve gone to at least one in your lifetime. While some of us have gotten used to more modern, “new-age” forms of worship, those of us from more traditional backgrounds may act a bit more startled or uncomfortable around the amount of personal expression exhibited by members of a congregation.

In case you are one who is unsure about how to react, here are a few important rules that will help you blend in. Or perhaps stand out. Whichever you’d prefer.

  1. When you enter your church or chapel, do so with arms held out in front of you as a signal that you are ready for the Holy Spirit to wash over you and fill you with a desire to sing, pray, and listen.
  1. As the service begins, be prepared to stand up at a moment’s notice.  Standing up during a song implies that the music is speaking especially to you and that you are responding.
  1.  It’s ok to be the first to stand up during a song in a room full of sitting people.  There’s a good chance others will join you in a desire to be equally moved.  But if they don’t, you are absolutely forbidden from returning to your seat.  You will be judged as you rightly should.
  1.  Although it’s ok to be the first standing, it is forbidden above all else to be the last sitting.  This means that you are refusing to take part in actual worship with those around you.  Though you may be singing, your voice and words mean nothing if you do not stand.
  1.  You can sing loudly if you are capable, but not too loudly.  It’s one thing to be visibly moved by the Spirit.  It’s entirely another thing to be so moved that you drown out someone else’s sacred experience.
  1.  It is currently undecided whether it is acceptable to raise your hands while singing.  While it is rightly believed by some that one’s hands are closer to God while raised, many churches still view raised hands with great suspicion.  If you are in such an environment, hand-raising may well be viewed as an act of civil disobedience and judged accordingly.  Proceed with caution.
  1.  When the lead singer stops to pray, you absolutely must lower your head.  The folding of one’s hands, however, is entirely optional.  Hand-folding is, after all, rather traditional, and you do not want to be accused of going through the motions.  Do whatever feels comfortable for you, just so long as you don’t make a big deal about it.  No peeking to see if your neighbor is awed by your impressively non-conformist hand-folding (though they probably are).


Though this short article covers the major rules and faux-pas of group worship, there are many other minor rules that will most likely change slightly from church to church.  As long as you remember the big stuff, however, you probably will be forgiven for the little mistakes that will doubtless occurred.  Best of luck and may God aid you in your attempts at communal worship.

As I Lay Dying vocalist accused of hiring hit man. (Maybe the name wasn’t convincing enough?)

Not at all intimidating...right?

Not at all intimidating…right?

By: Justine Johnson

Tim Lambesis, the lead vocalist of As I Lay Dying, Pyrithion and Austrian Death Machine, was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly seeking a hit man’s help in murdering his estranged wife.

Regardless of whether or not you recognize the names of those bands, the shock factor still comes into play. I found out about it through Indie Vision Music, the Christian music site that I follow almost obsessively. The comment feed immediately exploded.

Some people simply said “Wow, so sad.” Others posted poorly-punctuated, judgmental rants about how Tim is in a Christian band and should be leading by example. About two-thirds of the responses reminded everyone that we need to be praying for Tim.

Out of all the words my brain filtered through, there was one comment that really stuck out to me the most. A reader named “JoeyLJ” posted:

We are all capable of doing horrible things, being the lead singer in a “Christian” band doesn’t change that.

Whether or not this is true, the one thing Tim needs right now is prayer and support, either that the evidence of his innocence will surface, or if he IS guilty, that he may seek redemption. His family is also in dire need of support, I can’t even imagine what they are thinking right now.

Christians mess up too, folks. Just because this guy is in a Christian band does not make him more likely to live a moral existence. Also, keep in mind that this accusation has not been proven as of yet and there is a chance that he is innocent. Until Tim is convicted of the crime, we should refrain from passing judgment.

Oh, and we should definitely be praying for this guy, his family and his band mates. They’ve got a long road ahead of them.

Exclusive Interview: John the Raptist


By: Justine Johnson

Coming from the ashes of addiction and affliction, John “The Raptist” Gallagher recites the Bible “word-for-word, King James Version” in rap form. With the entire Holy Word of God at his fingertips, John memorizes Scripture and raps it as a ministry. Cardboard Magazine had the opportunity to sit down and hear John’s testimony at Lifelight Festival in Worthing, South Dakota. Listen here:

Exclusive Interview: Jenny and Tyler

By: Justine Johnson

Beginning in 2006, Jenny and Tyler Somers started working their way up in the musical world. From their debut album A Prelude in 2007 to their fourth studio album Open Your Doors (2012), the young couple has changed and developed into an increasingly talented “soulgrass” duo. Cardboard Magazine sat down with Jenny and Tyler last weekend at Lifelight Festival in Worthington, South Dakota to talk about song stories, favorite shows, and Jenny’s one-eyed cat. Tune in to hear what they said:

Exclusive Interview: Becoming the Archetype

Becoming the Archetype. Chris, dead center, sat down with Cardboard Magazine on Sunday.

By: Tom Westerholm (story and interview)

Members of the ever-growing Christian heavy metal scene, Becoming the Archetype has been a band since 2004. Though the group has seen a lot of turnover in members, they continue to play heavy music geared toward God. Cardboard Magazine caught up with Chris McCane, the lead vocalist, at Lifelight Festival in Worthing, South Dakota on Sunday to discuss members, big words, and Clifton the Beardskull. Listen in:

KB: Hip-Hop’s Indigenous Missionary

KB, a Christian rapper from St. Petersburg, Florida, integrates urban music with the message of the Gospel.

By: Tom Westerholm

It was hot and sunny outside at Lifelight Festival in Worthing, South Dakota. Across the expansive fields, an enormous main stage loomed, the stage for Christian pop artists like Peter Furler and 10th Avenue North. The Souled Out Stage, home to many of the alternative artists, from hip hop to metal, was directly to my right. But, seemingly in opposition to the alternative music playing mere yards away, I was seated next to Kevin Burgess, better known by his hip-hop moniker KB, talking about Katy Perry.

“I gotta be honest, man” he said, laughing. “I really like Katy Perry.”

Pop artists who married messy-looking British celebrities aside, KB defended his taste in secular music, specifically rappers.

“I deeply admire the way certain people can communicate,” he said. “They understand language and they can talk about the most secret and deepest feelings. That’s a gift, and Satan didn’t do that. God did.”

Burgess was quick clarify. “I do it all with a helmet. But that’s life in general. We throw out the bones when we can’t eat any more, we say “Ah, this isn’t good for me,” and back away from the table. That’s just how we live our lives as believers.”

Christian rap has been and remains somewhat of a controversial topic, with three very split, very distinct groups. There are the supporters. There are the people (mostly members of the older generation) who believe that hip-hop doesn’t have a place in Christian culture (‘”Have you seen BET?'” KB asked, satirically. “‘And you are going to put a Christian in front of that?'”). And there are the hip-hop purists, who don’t believe that a Christian message could mix with the violent, negative roots of rap music. And, to a certain degree, KB sees where they are coming from.

“It’s not like we invented this,” KB said, with a smile. “This was a culture, they were doing it before we got here, before I was born. But I would challenge you: evaluate. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Don’t just throw something out because you have a bad perception. What we do is technically excellent, what we do is genuinely hip hop, so there’s no other term for it but ‘real hip hop’.”

KB’s live performance was indeed technically excellent. Afternoon crowds at music festivals are notoriously difficult to entertain, particularly on the second day. By 5 pm, most attendees are tired of watching artists they don’t know, waiting for Skillet or Five Iron Frenzy to take the stage. But KB’s beats cut through the afternoon malaise, and as he bounded across the stage, his energy was contagious. The crowd, infected by the movement, bounced with him, arms in the air, clapping their hands above their heads and cheering as his hit single “Church Clap” pumped through the speakers. Christian or secular, rap or not, a skeptic would have found it difficult to deny that his show was infectious.

“I would agree with you that there are some Christian rappers who shouldn’t call themselves rappers at all,” he said. “But for the most part, I’ve been met with respect from a lot of guys, from dope boys to urbanites, so that provides a great bridge. But we’re aware that if they are going to accept the Gospel, our God is going to have to work with them. It’s not a musical thing, it’s a supernatural thing.”

For Burgess himself, Christian rap proved to be exactly the bridge he needed to turn his life around. His father was a military man, and his parents divorced when he was young. He and his mother moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, one of the toughest cities in the state.

“I went from being protected to always being in fear,” he said. “I went from not having to lock my doors to not being able to leave the house without a weapon.”

“I went from being protected to always being in fear. I went from not having to lock my doors to not being able to leave the house without a weapon.”


As so often happens in such difficult circumstances, these tensions created problems.

“It led to a lot of depression, anger, drugs, fighting, womanizing, you name it, that was my life,” Burgess said. “That was the climate of my progression as a man.”

But after a friend introduced him to Christian rap, KB found God, as well as his future calling. His catchy beats and smooth flowing lyrics have brought him to the forefront of the Christian rap scene, as well as his association with the popular 118 Clique, a group which includes heavyweights like Lecrae. KB will be sharing a stage with Lecrae on his upcoming tour across the US.

But despite his successes, KB remains very much in touch with his roots. Whether or not other people believe in the compatibility of his genre and his message, his own story is proof that witnessing through hip-hop can be a powerful way to spread the Gospel, and he is determined to do so.

“I have first-hand witness of the brokenness of this world,” he said. “I’m a professional sinner myself. Being around an urban context, which is the demographic we are going after, I’m not oblivious to the struggle. So when I make my music, I make it with that in mind. That’s who I am, that’s where I came from. I consider myself an indigenous missionary.”

Cardboard will cover LifeLight 2012

Cardboard Magazine will be bringing you extensive coverage of LifeLight 2012

By: Tom Westerholm

In lieu of a regular post (due to the crazy first week of school), a quick announcement: Cardboard Magazine will be covering the LifeLight Festival in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with media passes. We will be bringing you several interviews with top Christian artists, as well as photos and other exclusive content from the popular music festival.

From LifeLight’s PR Team:

When it kicks off in ten days, the LifeLight Festival will have many familiar features. First and foremost are the seven stages with over 100 bands that make it the largest free outdoor Christian music festival in the nation. But this Labor Day weekend, the festival has plenty of new things for people of all ages and interests.

This festival will see the addition of a seventh stage – the Unplugged Stage. This throwback stage from the early years will feature many local artists and have some open times for others to show up and play. A Kaleidoscope Lawn Stage will also be added near the children’s stage for younger children and families. The art display area will be expanded this year and include Native American art from area artists.

For anyone living within driving distance, we certainly would encourage you to consider attending. For all of you, we here at Cardboard look forward to sharing stories of some of the best in Christian music with you!