I had the pleasure of interviewing Nathaniel Rateliff back in 2013 off the back of his acclaimed last solo record ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’. It was a truly brilliant piece of indie-Americana song writing: deeply honest, reflective and brooding in equal measures. Though it clearly helped to shed some of the demons that surrounded him, I got the impression during that conversation, and the live shows which followed, that there was an itch which his current set up wasn’t scratching. He wanted to dance. He wanted to make people move. To bellow sermons of blue-collar America afront a backdrop of soaring horns and clattering percussion. It felt a long way off as I sat with him in the backroom of that North London pub. As I watch the former-troubadour now surrounded by his 6-piece soul band ‘The Night Sweats’ before an elated Jimmy Fallon with a crowd standing to ovation, I couldn’t help but notice the wry smile planted firmly upon his face. This was his vision all those years ago….
Spanning eleven tracks, the self-titled debut from Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats manages to capture all the passion and vigour which the outfit put into the Fallon performance, and so many performances before it. Littered with an abundance of rolling grooves, George Harrison-esque solo guitar licks and Rateliff’s gutsy vocals; it is unashamedly in-your-face at times (‘I Need Never Grow Old’), and on occasion touchingly subtle (‘I’ll Be Waiting’).
Though this record often holds an upbeat energy, the cathartic writing style which cemented the Missouri born songwriter as a cult favorite juxtaposes this to stunning affect. The album’s lynchpin track ‘S.O.B’ details his struggles with alcohol abuse, framing it in humour and driving it forward at breakneck speed with beautiful horns, backing “mmm”s and handclaps. There are occasional pauses for breath such as ‘Wasting Time’, where Rateliff channels early Ryan Adams for a poignant country-soul ballad about putting yourself on the line for a girl; it’s a beautifully arranged piece, built around pedal-steel guitar and staccato keys.
It would be easy to look at this record as a nostalgia trip; reviving the spirit of yore to bring neo-soul back to the public consciousness, even if it was just for one album. However, this is simply not the case. Though the reference points of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding are worn openly with pride on Rateliff’s sleeve, with ‘Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ he brings something genuinely exciting and contemporary to a genre steeped in tradition, and for that – as much as the sizeable quality of his songwriting – he deserves every last one of his plaudits.