Album Review: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats – Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

By on Monday, 17th August 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

NRNS_CoverNathaniel Rateliff’s last full-length album ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ was, to say the least, a bit intimidating. His more recent EP ‘Closer’, released last winter, was frosty and austere, but it was also quite a bit more inviting. Now, at the pinnacle of summer, Rateliff has cranked up the temperature and the intimacy with a new LP titled ‘Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’. Recorded with a full seven-piece ensemble, this album fairly radiates with heat—the band aren’t called the Night Sweats for nothing. They add an element of rhythmic energy and intensity to Rateliff’s already soulful sound, playing perfectly into the retro r&b vibe of this new set of songs.

The first half of the album flies by at a frenetic pace, with four-to-the-floor rhythms and exuberant brass instrumentation. Rateliff’s lyrics are full of pent-up energy and emotion. The opening of early single ‘Howling at Nothing’ immediately brings to mind the similar r&b stylings of Leon Bridges, but where Bridges is suave and smooth, Rateliff is gravelly and gritty. The rhythmic sensuality works equally well in either context, the former creating a slow burning effect and the latter fully bursting into flames.

The energy level is particularly remarkable on ‘Trying So Hard Not to Know’, a raw soulful number whose backing vocals help Rateliff’s voice cut through the raucous instrumental arrangement. In contrast, the somewhat softer dynamic of ‘I’ve Been Failing’ employs a gospel chorus underlay as the chorus “don’t you weep, don’t you worry” slowly builds to the desperate promise “I’ve been failing you, but I can’t stop trying”.

The first half of the LP culminates with ‘S.O.B.’, a foot-stomping, hand-clapping romp about drowning one’s sorrows in drink. The harmonies of the “oh-oh-oh” chorus are an ironic allusion to southern gospel, and the repeated lines “my heart is breakin’ / my hands are shakin’ / bugs are crawlin’ all over me” call to mind the ecstatic preachings of a rapturous minister. But make no mistake, this song would not be considered appropriate to most churches. Rateliff preaches his version of the gospel in the prison-themed official video for ‘S.O.B’; you can see it for yourself just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/1iAYhQsQhSY[/youtube]

The overall tempo slows somewhat in the album’s second half, adopting a sort of country-bar-jukebox-at-the-end-of-a-long-night feeling, with the wailing slide guitar of ‘Wasting Time’, the simple repetitive chorus of ‘Thank You’, and the slow, mellow sway of ‘I’d Be Waiting’. Even the horns in uptempo single ‘Look It Here’ have a slightly mellower sound as compared to the earlier tracks, and the lusty innuendo in the bridge lyric “I got a love so hard I can’t stand it” creates a perfect thematic segue into the starkly rhythmic and blatantly sexual following track ‘Shake’. Final track ‘Mellow Out’ is energetic but laid-back, its “do-do-do-do” chorus balancing out the anxious energy of the initial track sequence.

On ‘Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’, Rateliff and his cohorts have found a way to make Rateliff’s brutally honest and unapologetically emotional songwriting accessible to a wide audience of listeners. In the album’s press release, Rateliff was open about that goal: “I’m trying to do something that’s emotionally charged and heartfelt, and I want the experience to be joyous, for people to feel excited and dance around instead of being super-bummed by reality—I mean, things are hard. But I can remember dancing around to some song that was breakin’ my heart, dancin’ with tears in my eyes. I love that feeling, and I wanna share it with people, and hopefully they’ll feel it too.” Mission accomplished, Mr. Rateliff, and well done indeed.

8.5/10

‘Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ is due for release on the 21st of August via Stax/Caroline International. Rateliff and the full band have scheduled a tour of the UK for this autumn. You can find all past TGTF coverage of Nathaniel Rateliff by clicking here.

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