Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Photo courtesy Emily Stranahand

Photo courtesy Emily Stranahand

 Thomas Breeden
     Staff Writer

Missouri-born singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff and his band, the Night Sweats, have launched onto the national scene with their eponymous album. Stax Records released the 11-song offering on Aug. 21.

The Night Sweats, composed of Rateliff, Joseph Pope III, Patrick Meese, Mark Shusterman, Luke Mossman, Andy Wild and Wesley Watkins, brought their Denver-brewed folk rock flavor to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Aug. 5. They performed their rousing single “S.O.B.” which is just as in-your-face as the name may suggest.

In the track, Rateliff’s voice carries the group from a gentle soulfulness to a raucous chorus of fervor and well-placed expletives. The Sweats clap, hoot, holler and add their fair share of harmonious “ohs” and “mms.” Rateliff bemoans his hard knocks and begs for “someone to get [him] a god-damn drink.”

The rest of the album lives up to the bar set by the stellar track. “Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats” opens with “I Need Never Get Old,” complete with a horn section, a rocking bass line and Rateliff’s signature crooning. His voice evokes that of Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, a fellow indie folk-rock band that easily sits alongside Rateliff’s troupe.

Rateliff and the band balance screaming choruses with subtle verses and bridges, providing welcome contrast that pulls their music into the next level of pop perfection. Dave Grohl of Nirvana said that bringing the verses back down so the choruses had that much more punch was something Kurt Cobain always tried to do. One can hear that influence in Grohl’s Foo Fighters, and the Night Sweats seem to latch on to those ideals.

“Howling at Nothing” brings the album into a laid-back groove that’s echoed through the tracks that follow. Rateliff’s R&B influences come through most strongly in the slower track. It gives him time to milk the melodious blues scale for all it’s worth. The backing vocalists support him with well-placed peppering of reinforcing Rateliff’s sorrowful lyrics. A guitar solo in the middle of the track jangles straight out of the ‘60s folk revival, tone and all.

“Trying So Hard Not To Know” draws the most Edward Sharpe comparisons of its album-mates. A backing vocalist, that may be Rateliff himself, harmonizes the melody just as Sharpe’s Jade Castrinos might have during her time with the band. It’s followed with “I’ve Been Failing,” another grooving track akin to “Howling at Nothing.”

The second stand out from the album comes in the form of “Wasting Time,” right after “S.O.B”’s placement as the fifth track. “Wasting Time” is a bluesy, nostalgic ode to missed opportunities and past experiences. It features Rateliff reminiscing and asking to “think of all the time” he’d spent inside his own head. He croons: “what a waste of time.”

The album’s reverb treatment shines as this track takes a breather from up-tempo folk rock. Pedal steel guitars and piano peek through the wall of sound unlike in the previous offerings, unveiling the Night Sweat’s country/folk influences and subtle touches of acoustic guitar fills.

The middle of the album suffers slightly from that mid-album disease. Often artists put their strongest tracks at the beginning and perhaps save some for the end. This, unfortunately, is the case here. “Thank You,” “Look It Here,” “Shake” and “I’d Be Waiting” play through as solid tracks, but nothing noteworthy amongst “I Need Never Get Old” and “S.O.B.” They’re good songs but don’t offer much innovation — much like the redundancy of this sentence to the last.

However, the album ends on a strong note with “Mellow Out.” The Night Sweats bring back their acoustic sentiments to open the track, followed by vocal scatting reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s Wings-era vocalizations. “Mellow Out” swells in its chorus with a gentle string section. The song makes a non-chorus work — a difficult feat. It has no lyrics, just the “do do do’s” of the intro. What may land as lazy songwriting comes across strong in pop simplicity.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats accomplish much with their debut album. They manage to balance popular lyricism, folk rock and R&B influences, and intelligent simplicity in a manner that makes them a band to watch. Rateliff’s voice undoubtedly contributes a lot into that equation. He’s able to carry the band and distinguish them from the hundreds of other folk-rock minded indie groups out there.

The Night Sweats will perform an already sold-out show at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro on Nov. 10, after their current tour of Europe. To whet your appetite for the next time they come around, their album is available on iTunes and Amazon.

It won’t be long before we see this band moving and shaking to large festivals. Their album has been on the Billboard 200 since its release, landing at #17. There are great things ahead for Night Sweats. In the meantime, someone get Rateliff a drink — he deserves it.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Reviews, Visual & Performance

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