While it’s entirely possible you’ve never heard of Wilder Woods before now, unless you’re living under some rock, you’ve certainly heard him before. Wilder Woods is the nom-de-plume for Bear Rinehart, the frontman and a founding member of rock band Needtobreathe. With his band, Bear has made music which straddled rock and roots genres with a heavy dose of Christian imagery weaved into the lyrics. On Fever/Sky, his sophomore solo release (and first release for Nashville-based Dualtone Records), Bear brings forward a fantastic genre-mixing collecton of soul, roots rock, Folk and Americana.
Blessed with both and expressive and emotive singing voice, Bear Rinehart writes fantastically melodic songs too. Throughout Fever/Sky, there are moments of parental advance (“Make Your Own Mistakes”) for his children (whose names serve as the name of Bear’s solo band Wilder Woods). “Be Yourself” finds Bear in some sort of Americana groove with a warm and engaging vocal about loving your partner with the tender compassionate honesty of wanting the couple to be who they are and not who they think the other wants them to be. It’s as delightful a sentiment as the opening hit “Maestro (Tears Don’t Lie)”’s melody and raw expressive style is. These three songs perfectly serve up the nuances of Wilder Woods 11 track Fever/Sky.
Bear, who may be the closest to Joe Cocker that the mainstream rock world has had since we lost Joe himself (AC pop/country has Johnny Reid for such comparisons) and Bear blasts through the southern fried gospel of “Heartland” while “Criminal” is just a blast of joyful honesty. Perhaps the best song on a fantastic song is the genre-bending “Get It Back.” This one finds Bear’s voice subtly weaving through the ache of break up and he sings about the real fact that when we put ourselves completely into a relationship (“when you give your heart to someone…”) that it’s entirely possible that you’ll forever lose a part of you (“…you might never get it back”). For anyone who has been through the wringer of such a relationship, the song is for you. Meanwhile, “Be The Man” downright fantastic in its sing-a-long fuzzy rootsy soul filled lyrics and melody.
There’s not a bad track on Fever/Sky and Wilder Woods is a project that allows us to see a different side to Bear Rinehart, a side we should all want to hear more of. This is probably my favorite project he’s been a part of since The Outsiders, Needtobreathe’s album from 2009. In a career of great music, Wilder Woods proves that there is no end in sight to Bear Rinehart’s brilliant songwriting and Fever/Sky is one of 2023’s best albums to date and it should hold a spot on such year-end lists.