• Jeff South

10 No-Skip Albums: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

The eponymous debut of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats plays like a late night impromptu party at someone's small rental house in college. It starts on a fun note, builds to a nearly fever pitch, and then winds down with slow, contemplative tunes danced to by a pair of couples who drunkenly decide to hook up.

I learned about Nathaniel Rateliffe & the Night Sweats from a recommendation by a friend. From the first track, "I Need Never Get Old," I was hooked. The bluesy, soulful melodies, the throwback R&B sound of a bygone era, and Nathaniel Rateliffe's growling voice stirred something. I listened on repeat for half a day. The discovery of something new had led to the rush. And the whole thing is pretty much about alcoholism.

"I Need Never Get Old" has a drive and swagger that reminds me of Booker T. and the M.G.'s. Like many of the first 6 tracks, it's a dance song at heart. A distinct groove designed to get the foot tapping and head bobbing. "Howling at Nothing" keeps the party going by describing an actual party. "Trying Hard Not to Know" and "I've Been Failing" both play like deep, soul-bearing conversations between two separate couples a the party trying to work out their shit. I mean, we've all seen that right?

Then the party reaches a fever pitch with "S.O.B.," a profane, primal scream about the battle of alcoholism. The life of the party is going to crash, so he needs another drink. His friends know he shouldn't have anymore, but who wants to intervene? This is dark song, tragic in its presentation of the desperate addict. The bridge that leads to the final chorus is detox in musical form. Nathaniel Rateliffe starts this portion low and then builds to a roar:

My heart was breaking, hands are shaking

Bugs are crawling all over me

My heart was breaking, hand are shaking

Bugs are crawling all over me

My heart was breaking, hands are shaking

Bugs are crawling all over me

My heart was breaking, hands are shaking

Bugs are crawling all over me

All parties wind down. Each song following "S.O.B." feels like a rumination on living with addiction and knowing it's a battle fought one day at a time. "Wasting Time" and "Thank You" are odes of appreciation to loved ones sticking by an addict's side. "Look It Here" is the cry of desperate man to the woman he loves. "Shake" is a good old-fashioned song about getting it on. It's sultry and simple. "I'd Be Waiting" and "Mellow Out" round it out and the whole album feels like something released in late sixties. Horns, organs, guitars. An unpolished sound that still feels meticulously produced. And Nathaniel Rateliffe's vocals.

Nathaniel Rateliffe & the Night Sweats is more than just a collection of excellent songs. Yes, you can pick out any song, listen, and find enjoyment. It's also a soulful, bluesy party album and a complete work that has something to say about alcoholism and how it affects both the addict and those around them. You really should listen to it in its entirety.


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