I'd heard a few songs on this album since it dropped in August. I had put it in one of my Spotify folders out of curiosity and songs would pop up once in a while. I liked them fine. Then, some time in early November I decided to play the whole thing from start finish and I was instantly in love. How could I not be? Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats' self titled debut is Southern Soul with a country flair and fucking perfect.
From the joyously bouncing opener "I Need Never Get Old" with it's Sam and Dave inspired beat, it's clear this band takes soul seriously. Rateliff is a pretty well established indie folk singer but here he's a full on soul shouter like few others. His voice is deep, loud and commanding but there's a certain worn-in quality to it that really brings this to a special level. And the band is totally jumping. But what truly puts this over the top for me is the production quality. Producer Richard Swift captured a vibe and atmosphere here that sounds to me like it was all recorded live in the studio. I'm sure that's not the actual case, but it doesn't matter so long as the end result puts me in a room with the band, and it absolutely does. I feel like I'm in some old school, wood panelled studio with a bunch of sweaty musicians and vintage gear, maybe at Mussle Shoals, throughout this album.
It's not all just the expected Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, well worn tropes that are covered here, either. Every song also has a certain mid 70s country soul edge that comes through most on the ballad "Wasting Time" and sets this apart from other soul revival bands this year. But the stand out track, and my song of the year, is "S.O.B." a supremely infectious song that walks a fine line between being a deeply disturbing tale of alcoholic descent and party anthem with a total "fuck it" mentality which Rateliff actually just wrote as a joke. Opening with a gospel harmony complete with humming, clapping and stomping, Rateliff sings about how he will need someone to help him and how he will writhe and shake his body, pull his hair out and cover himself in ashes before suddenly breaking off that painful confession by demanding a drink as the band jumps in with the most joyous R&B gospel jam ever. If you don't join in, you might be dead. It's the most fun song you've likely heard in a long time.
There isn't a bad song on this album and the way it completely transports me when I listen to it is magical. If you've been paying attention, you know I love soul, especially Southern soul. But far from being a no brainer that an artist playing classic soul and R&B would be something I'd love, there's a certain feel that has to be there - a certain authenticity that has to come across as genuine love for what this is about. It's not easy to put your finger on it, but it's here. Rateliff and company clearly love this music and know it well and it shows. Now, get me a drink!