Bear Rinehart Aka Wilder Woods, is a man of action. Between his main gig fronting southern alt-rock band NEEDTOBREATHE and now his second solo outing titled Fever / Sky, he could never be accused of resting on his laurels. His band has been a touring machine for twenty years spanning eight albums, add now additional gigs for his side project further prove Bear likes to stay on the move. Enter the global pandemic and a shutdown of the touring industry, middle age, and fatherhood into the mix and that’s the recipe for these eleven songs from a restless troubadour.
Because these tunes were written during the extended downtime, we find Rinehart in an understandably introspective frame of mind. With songs of love for his wife and his three kids, of regret, and his favorite places to unwind, this is a man taking stock of his life and seeking to be present for each short-lived moment. It’s been four years since his Self-Titled album, and Fever / Sky not only manages to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump but slightly improves. It’s a step up because it’s more focused and cohesive, seeming to find and maintain the groove that his first foray spent searching out.
Highlights include the one-two punch of “Maestro (Tears Don’t Lie)” and “Patience,” which sets the album up with its overall best song and straight into a smoldering passionate one with “Patience.” Following that opening with two downtempo offerings ran contrary to my expectations at that point in the album. If I had one small complaint overall, it’s that the tracklisting left me wishing there had been a different order. For instance, while “Be Yourself” and “Heartland” are both terrific songs, they immediately kill the energy of the first two and would have better served to end the album with “Heartland.” Again, it’s a small and likely preferential thing, since it's barely worth noting. My absolute favorite chunk of the album runs from “Criminal” through “Death of Me.” In that span, we get an epic barn-burning rocker in “Criminal,” the spaghetti western-infused “Wish It Were Mine,” the regret-filled mid-tempo “Get It Back,” southern rocker “Be the Man,” and lastly the playful ode to his wife, “Death of Me.”
All in all, Fever / Sky is Bear at the height of his powers. There is tremendous contrast sprinkled throughout with "Fever" standing in for his pursuit of the grind and the "Sky" representing his attempt to slow down and enjoy the smaller moments with his people. I particularly appreciate the lack of rush in these songs, with many instrumental breaks giving them room to breathe, allowing the vocals and musicality to shine bright. Speaking of his vocals, they have never sounded better, nor more varied, running the gamut of full-throated rocker to smooth crooner and tender lover.
Musically, the album hews close enough for fans of his full-time band to enjoy, but also sets itself just slightly apart by leaning into the gospel and R&B notes not normally enlisted for his contributions to NEEDTOBREATHE. Major kudos to his backing singers and band who complement his talents with additional excellence. By way of a more stark example, look no further than the newly-released stripped-back version of “Maestro (Tears Don’t Lie),” which after multiple listens, may be this listener's preference. Ultimately, this is another fine piece of work to add to Rinehart’s already sparkling career, with it taking a place among the Top 5 things he’s had a hand in. Fever / Sky comes with a full recommendation for fans of his band, his solo work, and terrific Southern rock in general.- Review date: 4/15/23, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Dualtone / MNRK
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