Back in 2015 when Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats released their eponymous debut album as a band, we all went on a swift, sharp turn down memory lane.
Returning, for a moment, to the era of 60s Stax Records and, in particular, the southern soul-inspired rhythm and blues of Sam & Dave, we were witnessing the feet finding of a group who are now, following the release of Tearing at the Seams, firmly planted in a new chapter of modern soul.
While the like of Leon Bridges are bringing back the gospel-soul of Sam Cooke and co., Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats are creating their own brand of country-inspired soul music; offering a musical outlet whether you’re in love or alone, drinking with friends or swigging booze on your lonesome.
Tearing at the Seams opens with ‘Shoe Boot’, providing one of the funkiest openings to an album in a very long time. Organ, horns, bass and drums all combine brilliantly over the track’s first minute and a half to create a slow build that suggests something more energetic is to come.
We then leap straight into ‘Be There’, returning to the hand-clap rhythm so prevalent in their self-titled debut, as the energy builds, before the album’s first real highlights, ‘A Little Honey’ and ‘Say It Louder’. Rateliff’s obsession as a youngster with The Band is prevalent on ‘A Little Honey’ thanks to a telling choice of riffs backing his love letter lyrics to a distant lover.
Meanwhile, ‘Say It Louder’ has more than a touch of Van Morrisson to it as Rateliff’s smooth, soulful vocals over a mid-tempo beat explain how: “Sometimes what you need is exactly what you fear.”
Recording this record hasn’t been easy on the seven-piece. While the group have embarked on a mammoth tour across the US, Europe and the Oceania in promotion of their debut album, Rateliff has been living out a nightmare in his personal life. Spending endless nights on the road lead to a breakdown in his marriage and an imminent divorce from the woman he had a tumultuous but loving relationship with.
His music has always been intensely personal – from his solo work on In Memory of Loss to his struggles with addiction in ‘S.O.B.’ – and it wouldn’t be a Nathaniel Rateliff record without this inflicting the lyrical output. As is evident in the slowed-down ‘Hey Mama’, where he offers his raw and inspirational message to continue fighting on despite the frustrations you may be dealing with.
‘Babe I Know’ then echoes of the blues of Ray Charles before the album really turns into the party throwdown we all know and love. ‘Intro’, the track used to open many of the band’s sets in the past year, could be this album’s equivalent to the foot-stomping alchoholic turmoil of ‘S.O.B.’ as horns, claps, tambourine, drums, guitar and horns all combine magnificently to create a track you can’t help moving to.
The tempo is kept up as the album moves on, with ‘Coolin’ Out’, featuring Lucius’ Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, and ‘Baby I Lost My Way (But I’m Going Home)’ touching once again on a relationship slipping through his fingers.
The first single released off the album then follows in ‘You Worry Me’, a thumping track built on an insistent piano pulse, powered on by pedal-effected strings and bass. The penultimate track, ‘Still Out There Running’, harks back sonically to ‘I’ve Been Failing’ off their debut before the title track closes out the 12-song record in magnificent fashion. Taking all the heartbreak and angst endured recently, the pain in the 39-year-old’s voice is almost tangible as you’re left with the echo of: “They’re going to have to drag us away” ringing in your head, mixed with feelings of hope and heartbreak.
It’s has been a long road for Nathaniel Rateliff. Turning 40 this year, the singer/songwriter had been on the touring circuit as a solo artists for more than ten years prior to the breakout success of his collaboration with The Night Sweats two years ago. Fighting on through addiction, love and loss, he has had his fair share of disappointment and failure.
However, while he may have struggled to find his feet early on in his musical career, the release of Tearing at the Seams following the barnstorming success of their eponymous debut means that he has not only found his feet but has stamped his own unique mark, creating a new era of soul music that is not only steeped in nostalgia, but is a modern dose of country, rock and rhythm and blues-inspired soul all of his own.