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:
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