Nathaniel Rateliff’s New Solo LP Is Only Alright For People In A Certain Mindset

Courtesy: Stax Records

Taking risks in life is never easy.  That’s because in taking risks, we face the specter of falling.  However, in that potential of falling, we learn when we do fall.  When we learn, we get back up and do better the next time around.  No, some out there reading this might ask what this statement has to do with anything at all.  The point in making this statement is that it is relevant to Nathaniel Rateliff’s new solo album And It’s Still Alright.  Rateliff has climbed to great fame with this band mates, The Night Sweats in recent years, but with his new solo record – released Feb. 14 through Stax Records – Rateliff took a risk and fell.  This 10-song record is hardly at the level of his work with The Night Sweats, but is not a complete failure.  There is some positive content on this work, which boasts an overwhelming amount of very somber musical and lyrical content.  Among the most notable of the rare positive material in this presentation is the record’s opener, ‘It’s A Drag.’  This song will be discussed shortly. ‘Tonight #2’ is another of the record’s most notable works, and will be discussed a little later.  ‘You Need Me’ is one more of the record’s most notable works, and will also be discussed later.  Each song is important in its own way to the whole of And It’s Still Alright.  When they are considered alongside the album’s other entries, they are good but sadly not enough to make Rateliff’s new album “alright.”  They do at least show though, that hopefully Rateliff will take the album’s shortfall into consideration and use that to make his next solo album better.

Nathaniel Rateliff’s new solo album And It’s Still Alright is a record that sadly is anything but alright.  From start to end, the 42-minute record is loaded with extremely somber tunes, both in terms of the record’s musical and lyrical content.  It makes the record one of those presentations that requires listeners to be in a certain mindset in order to be appreciated.  Thankfully, for all of its shortcomings, the album is not a total loss, as is evidenced in part in the album’s opener, ‘What A Drag.’  The song’s title conjures thoughts of negativity, but in reality, the song is actually the opposite.  The song’s musical arrangement instantly lends itself to comparisons to works from Jack Johnson, with its gentle vocal delivery, finger snapping and light guitar picking.  The whole things creates a positive mindset in listeners’ minds.  The catch here is that said mindset plays along with the song’s lyrical theme, which focuses on a broken relationship.

The song’s lyrical content paints a picture from the vantage point of the person who was dumped, but not in the standard “oh-woe-is-me” sense.  The song’s subjet sings in the song’s lead verse, “Ain’t it a drag, babe/You feeling so safe/but you cannot hear or ignore/Here’s where the crash lands/Not as graceful as one thinks/So brace for things you don’t know/I left/I left feeling alone/But you can undo it, man.”  He continues in the song’s second verse, “You seem surprised, babe/After years of the same thing/Well, I hope it’s the half that you want/There’s not a last dance and no one really wins/So you cannot hold in your cries/Open your eyes/I left feeling alone/But you can undo it, man.”  Again, here is someone who has gone through a breakup, but has gotten past feeling bad for himself.  Rather, he seemingly feels good about himself, and knows the relationship’s end was not his fault.  That would account for the light sense presented in the song’s musical arrangement.  The two elements together make the song in whole one of this album’s most notable works, as they remind listeners that at least in some aspect of life, it will in fact be alright.  It is just one of the works that makes the record, at best, alright.  ‘Tonight #2’ is another of the LP’s most notable works.

The musical arrangement at the center of ‘Tonight #2” is the song’s most important element.  While the arrangement is very distinctly somber, it is not such that it is not worth hearing.  Rateliff’s flamenco style performance on the guitar and the very tone of the song itself couples with the subtle string arrangement to make the whole comparable to some of Johnny Cash’s most emotionally powerful compositions.  The arrangement in whole is so heart-wrenching, but yet is so powerful in that nature, in a weird way.  When that emotionally powerful arrangement is considered with the song’s contemplative lyrical content, the whole of those elements makes the song stand out even more important an addition to this record.

Rateliff sings in the song’s lead verse, “Tonight/You are a one-armed man/Pinned to the ground in the coolest pose/The flash bulb bursts/Audience froze/Fixed their gaze on a hip seed dance/Tonight/Well, your eyes are crazy/Well, alright/I’m unarmed/And just maybe we’ll find a way/To let it all sink in/If the world goes strange/Its dying flames/Would light the end of the last morning.”  He continues in the song’s second verse, “Tonight/We’ll pretend we’re friends/Except when we know the crowd’s too close/The book reading failed/But the curtain still closed/Fastest one wins/But who cares when you’re going slow/Well, tonight/Lost an eye to being lazy/Well, alright/We could take time to learn language/Or not make a sound.”  There is a lot of deep thought taking place here, clearly.  What Rateliff is saying with all of this metaphorical language is anyone’s guess.  It is almost as if he is saying collectively through the lyrics, things are a certain way, and could be another way, but does it really matter?  This is just this critic’s own interpretation and should not be taken as gospel.  The deeply metaphorical language will certainly generate its own share of discussion among listeners.  When that discussion is considered along with the engagement and entertainment that the song’s musical arrangement ensures, that whole shows that much  more why this song is an important addition to the album.  It is just one more of the album’s most notable works.  ‘You Need Me’ deserves its own share of attention, too.

‘You Need Me’ presents listeners with a light presentation that lends itself to comparisons to so many country music compositions.  What’s interesting here is that Rateliff’s vocal delivery couples with that light arrangement to once again make for comparisons to works from Jack Johnson.  The song’s semi-melancholic sound does well to illustrate the emotion in the song’s lyrical content, which once again, centers on the matter of a relationship gone bad.

Rateliff sings in the song’s lead verse, “It’s like you’re telling me/In the middle of the s*** I need you?/Or are you twlling me now in the middle of the set, it’s through?/Or did I walk by an never saw it, maybe/Or I was reading my lines and I never heard my cue?/Running to the top off the hill/Then the hill starts over/You can bury yourself/In the ground that you dug up/Now I was just contemplating/When do the tears dry up?/Far too easy to bait me/At least we shared the cup.”  He continues in the song’s second verse, “Are you telling me now/In the middle of the s*** I need you?/Or are you telling me now/In the middle of the s***, f*** you?/I’m the only one left on the sinking boat, not believing/And you were calling from the water and screaming back/It’s true/Start looking around and seeing it’s far too easy/You could lose a limb in a snare you set for yourself/Now, don’t you try to fool me/When you’re dumb, you don’t fear as much/It’s gonna be that simple/I’d rather do it drunk/Stumbling ‘round until you’re queasy/You’re losing your hair, but you’ve got friends/And if it’s gonna be that simple/I’ve got a long way to go to never again.”  From there, he asks again, “Are you telling me now/In the middle of the s***, I need you?”  Again, this all come across as a discussion by someone who has gone through a bad situation in a relationship.  There is almost a certain sense of incredulity as the subject asks, “Are you telling me now/In the middle of the s***, I need you?”  It’s as if the subject is saying to that other person, ‘What am I supposed to believe?  You think I need you?”  The mention of having “shared the cup” comes across as the subject saying, the past has happened and that the other person needs to let the past be just that.  To that end, it makes the song’s controlled emotion something that really does stand out.  Lots of songs of this ilk are out there from one musical genre to another, so considering the subject matter, that controlled emotion in the song’s musical arrangement adds to the song’s impact even more.  Keeping that in mind, the whole of those juxtaposing musical and lyrical elements shows why this song is just as important to the whole of It’s Still Alright as the other songs noted here.  It’s just one more of the saving graces for a record that is otherwise….well….anything but alright.  When this song and the others featured in the album are considered together, they make the record a presentation that is worth at least one listen, but sadly, not much more than that.

Nathaniel Rateliff’s new solo record It’s Still Alright is a work that sadly is anything but.  The 10-song record, which runs 43-minutes in length, is a presentation whose overly somber musical tones and lyrical content makes it a record that requires listeners to be in a specific mindset in order to appreciate said content.  Of course the record is not a total loss, as each of the songs discussed here prove.  The problem is that even with those songs in mind, the record in whole still is anything but alright.  Even with that in mind, Rateliff is to be commended for having even taken the risk of crafting such a record.  Hopefully he will take the lessons learned from its presentation and use them to not make the same mistakes on his next solo offering, when and if that happens.  It’s Still Alright is available now.  More information on the album is available online along with all of Rateliff’s latest news at:

 

 

 

Website: http://nathanielrateliff.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nathanielrateliff

Twitter: http://twitter.com/NRateliff

 

 

 

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Verve’s New Coltrane LP Is The Cream Of 2018’s New Albums Crop

Courtesy: Verve RecordsVer

From the mainstream to the underground, from the worlds of jazz and blues to the worlds of pop and rock, audiophiles have been given quite a bit this year to appreciate.  Up-and-coming blues-rock band The Record Company and veteran jazz outfit Yellowjackets joined World Music act Yiddish Glory to prove to be some of this year’s best new music.

Experience Hendrix, LLC’s new Jimi Hendrix album Both Sides of the Sun, composer Klaus Schultz and veteran performers Elvis Costello & The Imposters also provided some memorable new music along with Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Ry Cooder and Femi Kuti.

Considering how many top notch records were released this year, developing this year’s list was not easy by any means.  The acts noted previously all turned out some very impressive offerings.

After much analysis and consideration, this critic has placed atop the year’s top new albums list is the long-lost album from John Coltrane, Both Directions At Once.  The record stands out as a shining beacon that music lovers across the board should hear at least once, regardless of their familiarity with Coltrane and his body of work.

Second in this year’s list is taken by Yiddish Glory’s new album The Lost Songs of WWII.  Listeners learn some very important history about Jewish music, culture and history through this album that should be in so many listeners’ libraries.

Third place in this year’s list goes to composer Klaus Schultz and his new album Silhouettes.  The otherworldly compositions featured in this record are stunning in their presentation.  They conjure thoughts of some of Nine Inch Nails master mind Trent Reznor’s most powerful instrumental works crossed with just a touch of John Williams sensibility.  It really is a powerful presentation that crosses genres and deserves so much attention.

The remainder of this year’s list features new albums from the likes of Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Femi Kuti and The Record Company just to name a few acts.  As always, the list’s top 10 titles are the best while the five that follow are honorable mention titles.  Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks 2018 Top 10 Albums of the Year.

PHIL’S PICKS 2018 TOP 10 NEW ALBUMS

  1. John Coltrane — Both Directions At Once
  2. Yiddish Glory — The Lost Songs of WWII
  3. Klaus Shultz — Silhouettes
  4. Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite — No Mercy in this Land
  5. The Jamie Lawrence Sextet — New York Suite
  6. Jimi Hendrix — Both Sides of the Sky
  7. Femi Kuti — One PeopleOne World
  8. Ry Cooder — Prodigal Son
  9. Yellowjackets — Raising Our Voice
  10. The Record Company — All Of this Life
  11. Billy Gibbons — The Big Bad Blues
  12. Elvis Costello & The Imposters — Look Now
  13. Onyx Collective — Lower East Suite Part Three
  14. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats — Tearing at the Seams
  15. Joe Bonamassa — Redemption

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Nathaniel Rateliff And The Nightsweats Surprise In A Big Way With Their Debut LP

Courtesy:  Stax Records

Courtesy: Stax Records

The self-titled debut record from Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats is one of the most intriguing albums to be released so far this year. The Denver-based band’s eleven-song set mixes classic soul and R&B sounds with modern lyrics to make an album that will grow on audiences increasingly with each listen. And with each respective listen, audiences will increasingly agree that this album is in its own way one of the best new albums of 2015. One song that proves that argument is the album’s lead single ‘S.O.B.’ This infectious, up-tempo piece was a perfect choice for a first impression for the band and if the band lives on past its debut album, will most certainly go on to be a fan favorite years down the road. That is the case thanks to both its musical and lyrical content. The album’s opener ‘I Need Never Get Old’ is just as enjoyable of an example of how much this album has to offer listeners. It does so in exactly the same way as the album’s lead single, too. The same can be said of ‘Look It Here.’ The song’s steady 4/4 tempo and its pleading lyrics stand out against so many songs of lost love that one can’t help but note its enjoyment. It’s just one more example of what makes the self-titled debut LP from Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats a solid start for the band. That is not to discount the album’s other songs by any means. Any one of the songs included in this record could be used as examples in their own right. It just so happened that these three are the ones that this critic found served as the album’s best trio of representative tracks. Collectively speaking, all eleven songs (S.O.B. is actually included both in a “clean” version and a regular version making for twelve tracks but eleven songs) come together to complete an album that is one of the year’s best new overall albums.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ self-titled debut album is one of the year’s best new overall albums and one of its most intriguing to be released so far. That is thanks to the mix of soul and r&B influences that flow throughout the record’s eleven songs. Given the Denver-based band is not the first to exhibit such influences in its music. But there is something about the combined talents of the band’s members–Nathaniel Rateliff, Joseph Pope III, Patrick Mese, Luke Mossman, Mark Shusterman, Wesley Watkins, and Andy Wild–and those of the album’s production that make this record feel like it was sent through time direct from music’s golden era. That is made clear in the album’s lead single, ‘S.O.B.’ The infectious, up-tempo pieces instantly conjures thoughts of Little Willie John, The Temptations, and so many others from that era right from the song’s outset. The steady humming and clapping will have listeners do the same along with Rateliffe and company while happily tapping their feet in time, too. Rateliff’s gravelly vocal style makes the song even more enjoyable as he sings, “I’m gonna need someone to help me/I’m gonna need somebody’s hand/I’m gonna need someone to hold me down/I’m gonna need someone to care/I’m gonna writhe and shake my body/I’ll start pulling out my hair/I’m going to cover myself with the ashes of you and nobody’s gonna give a damn.” When one really takes the time to examine this verse (and the song’s second verse) the song really takes on a whole new identity. That is especially considering the driving energy exuded in the song’s verses and even more frantic energy released in the chorus. The combination of that varied energy and the song’s lyrical content leads one to interpret this song less as just an upbeat, radio ready single but something much deeper. Rather, the combination of said elements presents the song as one that presents a subject at the point of revelation, realizing that he (or she) has a problem. It is inferred that said problem is addiction via the song’s chorus in which Rateliff sings “Son of a b****/Give me a drink/Won’t more night/This can’t be me/Son of a b****/If I can’t get clean/I’m gonna drink my life away.” If this is indeed the case–that the song is centered on a person that is battling some personal demons–then the musical content set against such lyrics is an original approach to such a topic. One can almost see this person on the verge of going through withdrawal as he or she sings the noted lyrics. Of course this is all just the interpretation of this critic. Other listeners could easily make their own conclusions in hearing it for themselves. Speaking of which, audiences can hear it for themselves online now via the band’s official website http://www.nathanielrateliff.com. Regardless of the song’s true meaning it can be said that its ability to catch listeners’ ears, hold them from start to finish, and generate so much discussion around its mix of musical and lyrical content shows exactly why it is such a solid first taste of this record and an equally solid example of why the record in whole is one of the year’s best new albums overall.

‘S.O.B.’ shows via its combination of musical and lyrical content why it is such a solid example of how much Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ debut LP has to offer audiences. It is just one example, too. The album’s opener ‘I Need Never Get Old’ is another clear example of what the band’s new album has to offer. That is because even with its equally clear old school soul and r&B influences, it still stands out both musically and lyrically from ‘S.O.B.’ and the rest of the album’s remaining tracks. The use of the horns and drums set against the song’s guitar line harken back to legends such as The Temptations, Ray Charles, and The Four Tops just to name a few. Just as impressive is the fact that Rateliff shows he isn’t just a one trick pony in regards to his vocal style. His delivery here is much smoother yet still has just as much strength as is exhibited in ‘S.O.B.’ All things considered here, the musical content presented in this song shows even more the breadth of the band members’ collective talents and in turn shows even more just how much the band (and the album in whole) has to offer audiences. It’s just one part of the song that makes it so impressive, too. The song’s lyrical content must not be ignored. In regards to its lyrical content, the song comes across as something of an introspective piece that looks back in an almost celebratory fashion of a one-time love. That can be argued as Rateliff sings in the song’s lead verse, “Can we be there/Oh, just think of the time/Thought of love so strange/Said you never knew/While I try my best/To cover our eyes/It’s a common way to blame and hide the truth.” The song’s second verse serves that argument even more as he sings, “Taking our time/ah/Just standing in the rain/Meaning what you said/ah/And mean it to me/All of these lies/oh/And never again/Come on say it now/It’s a game.” It’s as if Rateliff (or his subject) is looking back on a past relationship and rather than being sad about what was, the subject opted to look back with a more positive outlook. That is driven home as he sings in the song’s verse, “I know that some will say it matters but little, babe/But come on and mean it to me/I need it so bad/I needed to try/I need to fail/I needed your love/I’m burning away/I need never get old.” It could be the wrong take but it seems almost like Rateliff’s subject is telling the other person that she(?) kept him young and how much she both meant and means to him. Yet again, this could be wholly off the mark. Though, it can be hoped that it is at least somewhere in the ballpark. If it is at least close, then it can be said that it is a rarely taken approach to such a subject. And in turn such approach makes the song all the more enjoyable and that much more of an example as to what Rateliff and company have to offer listeners on their new album. It is not the last example of how much this record has to offer audiences, either. ‘Look It Here,’ which comes late in the album’s sequence is one more strong example of how much this record has to offer audiences.

Both ‘S.O.B.’ and ‘I Need Never Get Old’ are clear examples of how much Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats have to offer audiences on their debut full-length studio recording. While both songs are clear, solid examples of how much it has to offer, there is still at least one more example that can be cited. That example comes late in the album’s sequence in the form of ‘Look It Here.’ This song boasts just as much classic soul and r&b influence as any of the album’s other songs including those previously noted here. What’s really interesting though, is that even with its old school influences, it also boasts a more modern style sound throughout its verses while that old school influence is more evident in the song’s chorus. The song’s steady 4/4 tempo and its pleading lyrics in which Rateliff’s subject sings, “Look it here baby I’m coming out/On my knees begging please/Look it here baby I’m calling out/Crying now hear me, hear me plead” is completely unlike other songs today of its kind, lyrically speaking. It isn’t one of those run-of-the-mill, oh-woe-is-me songs about lost love. Rather the band’s approach here brings about thoughts of James Brown. That is made even more clear as Rateliff sings in the song’s main verse, “I got a love so hard I can’t stand it/And with a heart so weak and abandoned/You’ll have to bury this man/And if that’s what it takes for a love that must be proved/Look it here baby I’m coming out/On my knees beggin’ please yea/Look it here baby there’s no one else/Come on now hear me out.” It would have been so easy for Rateliff and his band mates to take that easy route and make a standard song about lost love. Being that they didn’t, it makes this song stand out proudly as yet another example of what makes the band’s self-titled debut such a strong first effort. Audiences can hear the song for themselves online now via the band’s official website along with ‘S.O.B.’ at http://www.nathanielrateliff.com.

‘S.O.B., ‘I Need Never Get Old,’ and ‘Look It Here’ are all clear and solid examples of how much Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ self-titled debut record has to offer audiences. They are not the only songs included in the record that could be chosen as representatives for the record, either. Any one (or more) of the tracks included in this record could just as easily be used to exemplify just how enjoyable this collection of songs is from start to finish. That being the case, it can be said of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats that this album is one of the year’s most intriguing albums released so far this year as well as one of the year’s best new albums overall. It is available now in stores and online. Rateliff and company are currently touring in support of their new album and have a pair of dates scheduled in North Carolina on Tuesday and Wednesday November 10th and 11th in Carrboro and Asheville respectively. More information on the band’s debut album is available online now along with its current tour schedule and all of its latest news at:

Website: http://www.nathanielrateliff.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nathanielrateliff

Twitter: http://twitter.com/NRateliff

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.