The night sweats. I’ve had them a time or two. Waking while dreaming, wet like a preowned dance floor, short of breath and looking for some acquaintance in the dark. The Night Sweats. What a name for a band. From the first notes I heard of their self-titled album I knew why this name felt so apt. These are songs that will make you lose water—if not from dancing, brown water, or heavy turquoise accessories and denim—simply from time, loss and everything else that moves unaccompanied through the night. I played their first two releases, Howling at Nothing and S.O.B., on repeat for days. And then, with the rest of America, I witnessed this perfect raucousness.
If you haven’t yet spent time with Nathaniel Rateliff’s solo albums, please don’t hurt my feelings and give them all a spin immediately. I have an ever-growing list of “songs I wish I wrote” over which Rateliff holds a strong monopoly. In Memory of Loss was released in 2010, Falling Faster Than You Can Run in 2013 and Closer earlier this year in 2015. These songs are a far cry (and a big band) from the fast-tapping, knee-slapping rootsy tunes he’s produced with The Night Sweats but no one can deny them their soul. It feels as though Rateliff’s sorrow-filled writing and gruff voice was just waiting for a little more drum and a horn section.
This is not your father’s record [i], but it sounds like it could be and against the other sounds slipping fussily out of radios these days. So it’s no surprise that Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweat’s debut album was released on Stax records, the house that brought us Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd and Booker T. & the M.G.’s [ii]. There’s a sound here that will easily draw comparisons back to Stax alumni of the 60s, and certainly one can hear that Van Morrison sway as well (it really comes through in Wasting Time), but against the current popular music landscape it feels entirely fresh in a way that demands fervency, fullness and total abandonment.
At a time when soul is making a fashionable comeback with artists like Leon Bridges and Curtis Harding (and certainly Rateliff) at the helm, I can’t help but hope that this means a space in popular music for the kind of secular testifying that took place in the 60s that spoke to the gospel of human experience so much louder than the music itself. Something tells me we're hungry again.
[i] Even though it looks like it from all appearances. All hail turquoise swag, hand tats and chest hair.
[ii] For further information about Stax Records and a great read check out: The Power of Ordinary People: How Stax Records Set an Example for America.
Deep cuts from Nathaniel Rateliff’s earlier records not miss: We Never Win, Brakeman, Oil & Lavender, Three Fingers In, Falling Faster Than You Can Run, Winded.
If you’re feeling it, I put together a Quick and Dirty Soul Playlist for you to vibe to. It has classics and new voices and is sure to get you movin’ and feelin’.