Sunday, September 27, 2009

Needtobreathe: Lay 'Em Down

A few weeks ago, one of the teenagers at church approached me and said she had heard this song on the local contemporary Christian radio station and she wanted me to sing it the next time I did a special. The group is Needtobreathe and the song is "Lay 'em Down."

I looked up the song, and upon first listen, I thought - ah, that's really not me - I'm not sure I even liked the song. I decided to give it a few more listens and it grew on me (thankfully, not like fungus). I think what turned me off initially was the intro, while not exactly the same, it reminded me of Queen's "We Will Rock You." The difference in the two is that Lay 'Em Down's beat is STOMP CLAP, STOMP CLAP, STOMP CLAP - which to me seems to be 4/4, while the Queen tune is STOMP STOMP CLAP, STOMP STOMP CLAP, STOMP STOMP CLAP and is 3/4 or some variation of waltz time. While I do not have anything against the rock anthem We Will Rock You, I am initially skeptical of any song that seems familiar to something else. The Rinehart brothers, however, actually trace this simple form of percussion to the music of Johnny Cash - which makes sense concerning their heritage.

To understand Needtobreathe's musical culture, I did a little research and found out that the band was formed in Possum Kingdom (no joke), South Carolina by two brothers (sons of an Assembly of God minister) and two of their childhood friends. The name Possum Kingdom intrigued me and when Googling it, I found that Texas also has a Possum Kingdom. I'm not sure this is a Southern thing or not as my native Pennsylvania has plenty of places with names just as unusual.

Locality name aside, Needtobreathe has that earthy sound that comes from a mélange of country, blues, and rock that has characterized many of the bands from this region. This is especially true of those that gained popularity in the 1970s, which is definitely a Southern thing. With the songs I have delved into, Needtobreathe appear to be more acoustically oriented than other Southern bands (à la Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Stillwater, the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Elvin Bishop, and others) - but cut from the same cloth.

The song itself, as I discovered, is played in the slack-key guitar tuning of "C." Tuned (low to high) as CGCGCE, I had played around with this tuning back in the late 70s, but never pursued it seriously having preferred more common alternate tunings (Spanish, Vestapol, Dropped D, and Double D). The other night, I tried "C" Tuning and, while it requires me to rethink what I need to do, the low C really gives the song a nice flavor. I'm sure I could pull this off in standard tuning, but will do it in open "C" to retain the sound of the recording.

The only problem I see with me doing this tune is replicating the vocal as Bear Rinehart's voice has that edge that makes his singing interesting. Unfortunately, I don't naturally have that edge. Having spent 20 years in broadcasting, I worked on keeping my voice as clear as possible. Some of the best rock vocalists, however, have this tonality that gives their singing more character. Think of people such as Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis, and others for example. My daughter and I talked about this a couple a weeks ago while listening to the radio - some singers are just more appealing than others. As for current recordings, I put Caleb Followill of the Kings of Leon in this category.

Additionally, Needtobreathe is between genres - not totally a rock band and not totally a contemporary Christian band. Some of their songs are not of a spiritual nature and some that are could be played on secular radio with no difficulty. They bridge both audiences by having contracts with two record companies that provide Needtobreathe the opportunity to promote their music to both audiences.

I think I am going to listen to more of Needtobreathe in the very near future.

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