Sounds like … shimmering pop/rock with a decidedly Southern flair that's reminiscent of Counting Crows, Train, Dave Matthews Band, and occasionally Plain White T's.At a glance … after a heavily buzzed but indistinct debut, needtobreathe seems to have found their footing with The Heat, a sonically rich and thoroughly enjoyable sophomore effort.Track Listing Spare the Time
Restless
Again
Return
We Could Run Away
Streets of Gold
More Time
Signatures of Divine
Looks Like Love
The Heat
Nothing Left to Lose
Movin' On
Washed by the Water
Second Chances

Much has been written about the proverbial sophomore slump, especially when a band's debut arrives with as much fanfare as needtobreathe did in 2006 with Daylight. Whether you consider it one of the year's major releases or an over-hyped pop/rock effort, the album regardless proved an effective start. Still, with the band already switching labels (from Sparrow to Word), would their follow-up keep the fans, expand their audience, or fade into obscurity like so many other newcomers?

Good news. While Daylight had its charms, The Heat is a quantum leap forward. Rather than taking cues from British rock (Oasis, Keane, Coldplay) like seemingly everyone these days, and rather than relying on familiar Christian platitudes for songwriting inspiration, needtobreathe seems to have found its voice with their sophomore effort.

Admittedly, those who prefer the decibels cranked up may be a little disappointed in the South Carolina rock band's foray into more artsy, stripped-down territory. But standout tracks like "Restless" and "Return" have far more depth and richness in their pared-down instrumentation than the first album ever did. And by not competing with a slew of noisy guitars, the encouraging strains of "Looks Like Love" and the gospel-tinged "Washed by the Water" pack more emotional punch while Bear Rinehart's gravelly vocal rises to the top.

The band makes an equally substantial progression in their lyrics too. The introspective title track has the world-weary quality of a band that spends many of its nights in the spotlight, away from the comforts of home. "Nothing Left to Lose" is a well-crafted reminder of hope in the midst of life's inevitable struggles. And for anyone wondering if needtobreathe has stayed true to their calling while making inroads in the mainstream, "Second Chances" couldn't state the band's beliefs any clearer.

Ultimately, it's needtobreathe's ability to communicate these simple truths with creative panache that makes The Heat such a winning effort. If the band continues to expand their horizons by exploring this more diverse and less predictable path, they're bound to surprise and impress with future releases.

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