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Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats - The Future (Album Review)

Friday, 19 November 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Backed by the wonderfully expressive Night Sweats, a joyous eight piece ensemble who dispatch vintage Muscle Shoals R&B textures with class to burn, Nathaniel Rateliff never sounds like a man who consciously writes and sings music. When he steps up to the microphone, it’s as if some unstoppable force has entered his body, using him as a conduit to express elemental truths about life, love and, on this soul-searching record, the existential crisis that overwhelmed him during the pandemic.

It can’t be easy for Rateliff and company. Taking their classicist cues from hallowed styles such as Motown, country, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll, it’s an almighty challenge to make original music that isn’t merely a second-rate homage.

Where the group’s second album, 2018’s ‘Tearing At The Seams’, was sometimes over-indebted to the likes of Booker T & the M.G.’s, Otis Redding and Ray Charles, ‘The Future’ is more balanced.

Although exhibiting a hearty reverence for those idols, while referencing everyone from Bob Dylan and The Band to Bill Withers and The Beatles, they’ve crafted a thematically watertight record that, by addressing contemporary tribulations, gives these songs a unique identity of their own.

Love Don’t is The Four Tops possessed by wolves. Impelled by stomping beats and lacerating brass bursts, Rateliff’s preacher man persona extols the power of self-assertion and shakes the heavens above. What If (featuring delightful harmonies from Jenny Lewis and Jess Wolfe) grooves like early Elton John as he searches for belief “when only half of the cards are shown”, before hitting a refrain that’s so classic you’ll swear Barry White once sang it.

Elsewhere, Face Down In The Moment is a slow burning pick-me-up that finds the frontman suffocated by the weight of the world. Imploring himself not to waste away, when its majestic, cleansing vocal and saxophone crescendo kicks you’ll be a blubbering, euphoric mess. I’m On Your Side, meanwhile, is a sterling proclamation of solidarity that offers an extended showcase for the band’s magnificent horn section.

Far from being window dressing, they’re a big, beaming character in their own right. Whether bellowing, swooning or seducing, they bring an abundance of heart, warmth and optimism to the musical side of a lyrically tormented record that boasts a strong ‘70s singer-songwriter vibe.

All notions of old school masculinity are ditched on Survivor, where Rateliff admits to a loved one that he’s not the island they believe him to be, and Love Me Til’ I’m Gone, a blue-eyed soul cut that sees him crying out for support while aping Van Morrison fronting Procol Harum. By letting people know it’s OK not to be OK, while excavating cautious hope from despair, these laudable, vulnerable songs will offer comfort to anyone who’s hit the wall and is struggling to ask for help.

The term ‘lockdown album’ might be increasingly irritating, but it can’t be denied that records made during that period have, more often than not, been among their creator’s best work. ‘The Future’ is no different. Dishing up confessional vignettes over sublimely performed and supremely arranged compositions, its heartfelt blend of style and substance will be more than enough to keep spirits high as those winter nights draw in.

Nathaniel Rateliff Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri May 20 2022 - MANCHESTER Academy
Sat May 21 2022 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Mon May 23 2022 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Tue May 24 2022 - DUBLIN Helix
Thu May 26 2022 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Fri May 27 2022 - LONDON Roundhouse

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