Release Date: Aug 21, 2015
Record label: Fantasy
Before Nathaniel Rateliff put together his new soul band the Night Sweats, the Denver musician was regarded as a latter-day folk singer on the fringes of Mumford & Sons’ neo-roots revival. Given his music, the designation was understandable, but it was also incomplete. Rateliff’s songs on a pair of solo albums were often built around fingerpicked acoustic guitar and showcased his voice, a startling instrument given to volatile swings from a resonant murmur to massive surges of emotion.
If you’re confident enough to name check Sam & Dave and Otis Redding as your influences, then you’d better have the tunes and the voice to make good with even the flimsiest of comparisons. Unbelievably, Nathaniel Rateliff has pulled off something quite remarkable with his latest album, and has come up with a contemporary record that sounds as bold and exciting as the classic releases on Stax and Atlantic that inspired him. Most importantly, he’s remembered that in order to make a truly convincing soul album, you really need to have soul by the bucket load.
Songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff established himself as a critically celebrated folksy Americana singer/songwriter on 2010's In Memory of Loss, his Rounder Records debut. Though he played in straight-ahead rock & roll bands before then, his independent releases since have been of intimate, poignant, and pensive songs. Until now. This self-titled offering on Stax is a hard-swinging, house-rocking affair that draws heavily on vintage R&B, soul, and proto rock & roll.
From unsigned folker to Stax recording artist, Nathaniel Rateliff has taken the long road to recognition. Growing up in rural Missouri, he had a television with one channel; he didn’t have a phone; his family ate venison and foods from their garden. His simple life changed when his father died in a car accident on the way to church, and a young Rateliff was forced to quit school and go to work.
Some artists undergo reinventions. What Nathaniel Rateliff accomplishes on his first LP with the Night Sweats — transforming himself from folk troubadour to funky soul bandleader — is a revelation. Rateliff comes on like Van Morrison fronting Booker T. & the MG's, reviving the glory days of his label, Stax.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night SweatsNathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats(Stax)Rating: 3 out of 5 stars It’s safe to say that even diehard cult fans of Nathaniel Rateliff’s two previous introspective, acoustic based singer/songwriter albums didn’t expect him to be fronting a pounding, rollicking, horn-propelled soul revue for his third full length release. Whether the abrupt change in approach came about by an artistic epiphany or Rateliff just felt this was a better way to draw attention to his talents isn’t clear. Either way with a bevy of positive press and a recent high profile performance on the Tonight Show, it’s working.
Having made the entirely sensible decision to buck up his rather run-of-the-mill Americana with a sassy new band and a shot of brass, Denver songwriter Rateliff finds his move validated by a release on venerable label Stax. If his fourth album doesn’t quite live up to that pedigree, its rootsy take on soul – swigging deep from the spirit of Van Morrison and the E Street Band and ending up in a warm O-Dexys-Where-Art-Thou fug – is rambunctiously satisfying, powered by knee-slappingly solid songwriting on the likes of the sweetly swinging Howling at Nothing, and, as in SOB’s declaration of “If I can’t get clean, I’m gonna drink my life away”, real hollering heart. .
Nathaniel Rateliff’s evolution from earnest Americana act to rock/soul revivalist finds the Denver singer move from a whimper to a roar by recruiting a superb six-piece soul band. The beefed-up bluesy guitars, trilling pianos and surging horns have given him the confidence to unleash a lifetime of fury and frustration: on the standout SOB he hollers, “Son of a bitch, give me a drink!” with mad determination, and Howling at Nothing’s fight for a lover’s honesty fires up the sort of guttural, red-faced sincerity that’ll have Jools scrambling for the phone. Aside from Snake, which brings to mind Paolo Nutini slumped at the back of a strip club, the album is full of the ghosts of songwriting greats like Otis Redding, Chuck Berry and Van Morrison, and sounds like it should establish Rateliff as the breakneck bar brawler of the new soul movement.
Henry Yates on new releases from Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Malted Milk & Toni Green, Geoff Everett, Erja Lyytinen and Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Call it a happy accident. When Colorado folkie Nathaniel Rateliff came off the road from 2013’s strummy Falling Faster Than You Can Run, he started writing tooth-rattling, throat-shredding soul cuts “just for the hell of it”. Eleven songs later, he had a set strong enough for Stax to pick it up.