By Jack Sharkey, January 8, 2016.

Nathaniel Rateliff is a troubled-man. Maybe. He sure writes and sings like he is – and that’s a good thing for the rest of us. Nathaniel Rateliff also has an amazing feel for American soul music – again that’s a good thing for us. His latest album has even been released on Stax Records, and to this unashamed lover of all things 60s and 70s Soul related, I am thrilled to see the venerable label – even if it really has nothing to do with the original – releasing quality Southern Soul music again.  

 

Thirty-six-year-old Rateliff has been around a while. From rural Missouri by way of Denver, Rateliff has seen some minor success over the years, opening for the likes of Mumford & Sons and the Fray, but the eponymous debut of Rateliff and his band the Night Sweats pretty much assures that this seasoned and possibly-grizzled singer will be around for a while. The emotion in his voice has as many miles on it as an old Dodge Ram pickup raising dust on some farm road west of the Mississippi, but there’s a vulnerability to his performance on this album that separates him from every other soul-shouter making waves today. 

Click the album to buy the album!  

Released August 21, 2015

Length: 38:13

Produced by Richard Swift

Mixed by Richard Swift

Engineered by Richard Swift and Patrick Meese

Mastered by TW Walsh

Chart Positions: Billboard Top 200 = 17, Billboard Modern/Alternative Album = 2, Billboard Rock Album = 4

 

I get bored easily, so I was recently lamenting the fact that for the rest of my life (or as long as my ears hold out) I was only going to be able to satiate my need for authentic musician-based soul music with stuff I’ve already heard a thousand times. St. Paul & the Broken Bones helped with that immensely, but Nathaniel Rateliff has given me hope for the future. For the record, the two acts couldn’t be more different, even if their collective DNA is pretty much the same. The difference? St. Paul is all Muscle Shoals and Rateliff is all Memphis.

 

Sure this album is available on CD, and via download (it’s currently the #5 Top Downloaded Album), but this is music you want to be a part of. Your own personal universe will be in much better alignment when you listen to this record on vinyl. Arguments as to which formats sound better are moot – it’s all about the experience.

 

Rateliff’s band’s name also gets the Award for Best Band Name Since Maybe ‘the Band’ as it describes on several different levels what goes on when these people get together to play.

 

Side 1

I Need Never Get Old (4:13): My favorite song on this record starts, with a simple, harmonized guitar riff that gives you a nice sense of familiarity right before the horns kick in and force your feet to take control of your body. Then Rateliff starts to sing and you realize you’re listening to something at once familiar and completely new. Guitarist Joseph Pope III loves his dark plate reverb, and so does producer Richard Swift. If you resist the sound of the reverb you may find this record unsettling, but once you give in to it and realize the music only exists how it exists because of the way the guitar sounds, you’ll be just fine.

Howling At Nothing (3:09): Rateliff’s voice is dirty. It’s tired and got a lot of miles on it. Rateliff’s voice is a result of Rateliff’s soul and you feel the melancholy on this soft bluesy-shuffle on a walk down some dark Southern road late at night. The production is simple and certainly not “audiophile” and that is incredibly refreshing, because what you’re hearing is emotion and performance not ProTools and I like that most about this record.

Trying So Hard Not To Know (2:50): My favorite song on this record features some dirty effects on the bass and guitar mixed with a very simple drum recording; the power of the band comes through even with a simple chord structure and riff. Simple music is such a joy to behold when it’s played like this. The fadeout is a little abrupt and I could use just a tad more vocals in the mix, but then again, why always so much to complain about?

I’ve Been Failing (3:00): A little honky-tonk piano lightens up the mood, but it doesn’t mask the struggle of the story of a guy who’s not done such a good job in his relationship but is seriously contemplating doing a better job. The joyful bounce of this, my favorite song on the record, gives me hope that he may just get it right this time. I am however left unresolved as the song ends far too early for me.

S.O.B. (4:07): There can be no doubt that this is my favorite song on this record. A Southern soul revival, complete with Spanish Moss in the trees, a foreboding moonrise to the east, and far too much humidity and heat for this time of night, Rateliff has just broken up with his girl from the previous song and he’s decided to suffer the only way he knows how. He’s quite alive and very drunk thank you very much, in spite of the heartache and the bugs crawling all over his broken-hearted self. He blew it and his voice is tearing apart – and that’s a good thing for all of us.

 

Side 2

Wasting Time (3:44): Side two opens with some beautiful acoustic guitars and ethereal vocals that are a far departure from the raucousness of on the first side. On this, my favorite song on this record, you can hear Colorado in the pedal steel and harmonies. Think My Morning Jacket meets Ray Lamontagne, only different. The production is spare and as restrained as the lyrics highlighting the beauty of Rateliff’s instrument in its nuance and understated power.   

Thank You (3:17): The dark plate reverb is back, and the loose snares on the fat wooden snare drum evoke a time so old it’s completely current. No hipster fad is this music as evidenced by this pained song of love by a guy who just can’t seem to find the right way in the world. The overall album production is not super-bright, and you’ll notice that the most on this track. Once you get past what you’re used to listening to production-wise, you’ll realize you're listening to music how it sounds when it slips into the ether.  

Look It Here (3:03): If we still had phone booths, that’s where this song would take place. Sadly, there’s just not as much romance calling your baby and telling her you’ve got it right this time while on your iPhone at a stop light. The driving snare on the quarter notes forces your feet to move once again as the band and singer stay out of the way of the song – something sorely needed in today’s music.   

Shake (3:38): The percussion is vaguely Middle Eastern, and the depth of the reverb puts us in some strange torch-lit dream that is sensual and a little frightening. The mix and repetitive bass and guitar give me a Walk On Gilded Splinters circa Dr. John the Night Tripper vibe, and I have to tell you – I like it.

I’ll Be Waiting (3:40): A slippery shuffle with hollow body guitar and Fender Rhodes, the interesting heavy cymbal mallet work is just odd. I mean that in all the best of ways, but it takes a simple little blues shuffle and turns it in to some other-worldly space love song as interpreted by a soul band from Denver. This is not your father’s invitation to the dance.   

Mellow Out (3:32): With a touch of Stand By Me, if the hook doesn’t ear-worm you, you need to pay better attention when you listen to music. By far, my favorite song on the album, Rateliff shows off the pain in his artistic soul like only the very great soul singers have done – but he does it so subtly that you’re drawn in instead of pulled in. Brilliant.    

 

Is this a tremendous “audiophile” record? Probably not, but how boring would music be if it all sounded the same? This is music from the soul, not cookie-cutter “look how homogenous my production chops are” music – and for that reason alone this is a great record. Throw the song-craft, musical performance and Rateliff singing for the Everyman together, and this is a classic record that will hold its place for years to come.

 

Nathanial Rateliff and the Night Sweats is best listened to: 

  • • While you’re feeling somewhat like you’re never going to get out from behind the 8-ball
  • • Sitting back and listening is good, but don’t be surprised when your feet and hips take charge of your brain
  • • Spirits – the harder the better. Leave the wine and beer for another time and open up the whiskey
  • • I wouldn’t recommend this as a Valentine message to your better half, unless you’re just a regular flawed person who’s all in on giving all of this life stuff a try

 

Thanks to Allmusic.com

Listened to on a pair of R300's powered by a Yamaha integrated AV receiver and a VPI turntable.

 

The opinions in this article are the author's own and not necessarily those of KEF or its employees.