Before even signing a record contract, Billboard dubbed folk-pop singer/songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff a “must hear” and Spin praised his “massive, alluring voice”. This wave of acclaim led to a live set on the popular indie site Daytrotter and a solo tour opening for The Fray, as well as a featured spot on Later… with Jools Holland alongside Donovan and Blondie. Rateliff has shared the stage with artists such as Bon Iver, Mason Jennings, Iron & Wine, Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and many others.
In 2013, Rateliff formed soulful rock and roll/R&B combo Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats with guitarist Joseph Pope III, drummer Patrick Meese and keyboardist Mark Shusterman – who bring a convergence of intensities, musical and psychological, to the performances. The band’s debut album Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats practically explodes with deep, primal and ecstatic soulfulness. This stunning work isn’t just soul stirring, it’s also soul baring, and the combination is absolutely devastating to behold. You don’t just listen to this record—you experience it. So it’s entirely fitting that the self-titled album will bear the iconic logo of Stax Records, because at certain moments Rateliff seems to be channeling soul greats like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. But as this gifted multi-instrumentalist honors the legacy of the legendary Memphis label, he’s also setting out into audacious new territory.
Rateliff, who’s 36, traveled a long road to get to this point. He left school after his dad passed away at the end of 7th grade, left his home in the small town of Herman, Missouri, where his future would’ve likely involved endless shifts in a nearby plastic factory; and worked as a janitor for a high school. Not long afterward, he followed some local missionaries to Denver, thereby escaping what he describes as “the Midwestern lifestyle of working and growing up too fast.” He soon outgrew his childhood understanding of religion, realizing that “there are so many books out there besides that one,” as his worldview expanded exponentially. Rateliff spent the next 10 years on the loading dock of a trucking company before becoming a gardener and getting married along the way. But as the years passed, he became increasingly focused on writing songs and performing them at any watering hole that would have him, in time becoming part of the city’s burgeoning folk scene. “I got kind of a late start making music,” he says, “but eventually I went out on the road,” first with Born in the Flood, which he’d formed with Pope, and then The Wheel, the forerunner of the Night Sweats. By then, he’d overcome his longstanding discomfort at playing his songs in public.
“Writing at home is one of my favorite things to do,” says this constitutionally solitary man. “But for years touring was really hard for me—being alone, being married and having my relationship run through the mire, because a lot of my songs are about that. Sometimes it sucks to sing those songs and have to relive those situations. It leaves you pretty exposed, and your partner too; it can be unfair. But now I love being on stage and cracking jokes, trying not to take myself too seriously, even if the material is about failed relationships and alcoholism, that kind of stuff”, he says with characteristic candor, punctuating the admission with a rueful laugh.
“I try to be lighthearted,” Rateliff continues, “because, although the songs are heavy, I want it to be a release for people. I’m trying to do something that’s emotionally charged and heartfelt, and I want the experience to be joyous, for people to feel excited and dance around instead of being super-bummed by reality—I mean, things are hard. But I can remember dancing around to some song that was breakin’ my heart, dancin’ with tears in my eyes. I love that feeling, and I wanna share it with people, and hopefully they’ll feel it too.”
Get Gone, the potent debut album by the Shreveport, Louisiana natives in Seratones, makes a strong case that this little-known corner of the state is fertile ground, musically speaking. A.J. Haynes (vocals), Connor Davis (guitar), Adam Davis (bass) and Jesse Gabriel (drums) serve up a combination of Southern musicality, garage rock ferocity, and general badassery. Haynes’s powerful singing voice, first honed at Brownsville Baptist Church in Columbia, Louisiana at age 6, rings across every track. Davis’s bass and Gabriel’s playing propel every song with the grit, energy, and rawness of punk, the feeling of soul, and occasionally, a little jazz swing. The other Davis offers a clinic in guitar riffs, from swaggering blues to searing interstellar leads.
Seratones’s music, created with collaborative songwriting and spontaneous creativity, is certainly their own, due perhaps in part to Shreveport’s unique sonic geography. The city sits at a nexus roughly equidistant from Memphis soul, Mississippi Delta Blues, and New Orleans jazz, with Texas swing located just over the nearby state border. The band’s sound draws from those touch points and more, ranging from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid to Kind of Blue. They’ll happily connect the dots between Ornette Coleman and Jello Biafra.