By Roy Trakin.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats (Stax/Concord Music Group)
This Missouri-born, Denver transplant made some inroads on the local scene as an itinerant folkie until discovering the primal joys of full-throttle, Sam & Dave-styled soul, and the ear of Jimmy Fallon, among other tastemakers, for the surprise summer hit of the year in the roaring “S.O.B.,” which landed him a deal on – perfect – the Stax label, now a part of the Concord Music Group.
More rough and ready – closer to vintage rough-hewn E-Street Band, say, than the retro approach of St. Paul and the Broken Bones or the raw histrionics of Alabama Shakes. Rateliff and company roar through these 11 songs like there’s a cab waiting outside with the meter running.
Rateliff abandons cool for hot, steamy R&B, which is pretty cool come to think about it. “I Never Get Old” starts off like “Hold On I’m Comin’,” all blaring horns and thumping bass, though the lead singer knows how to lay back, slowly building, teasing it out until letting loose. The gospel-tinged “Howling at Nothing” similarly starts out slowly, like Sam Cooke, pushed along by a churning guitar riff, a song that sounds up to the moment, even as it evokes a ‘50s feel.
“Trying So Hard Not To Know” chugs along on its backbeat, Rateliff’s roars echoed with a mirroring funk line and some honky-tonk piano on fade-out, while “I’ve Been Failing” takes its own sweet pace to percolate around the line, “I can’t stop time.” The timeless beauty of “S.O.B.” is in its hand-clapping, rouse-the-congregation uplift, offering a cathartic expletive-spouting resolve to its simmering, church-like devotion, the perfect closer for the album’s mythical side one. “Wasting Time” sounds like something The Band might cover, “The Weight” for “These Days,” a nice departure that leads off a theoretic second side.
There’s a loping, Tom Waits-isan quality to the arrangement of “Thank You,” the singer emboldened in his grateful pleas by the sweet, doo-wop background harmonies, while the horn-driven “Look It Here” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the same Stax label if it came out back in 1965, though it’s just as fresh 50 years later. The undulating bluesy twang of the Stones-y “Shake,” the smoky, wistful “I’d Be Waiting” and the aptly named closer, “Mellow Out,” round things out with an emphasis on songs rather than jams, lulling us into a pleasant state of heightened devotion.
In the immortal words of Putney Swope, Nate and his cohorts got to have soul, and now, so do we…