By Jack Sharkey, March 23, 2018

 

Front to Back Album Review: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats - Tearing At the Seams

  • Released: March 9, 2018
  • Label: Stax
  • Producer: Richard Swift

 4 Play Buttons

Four out of Five Play Buttons

Didja ever have one of those weeks? Sure you have. This week was that week for me. Then I loaded up Shoe Boot from Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ latest album Tearing At the Seams and the absurdity of it all disappeared in 16 beats. That my friends is why we listen!

 

I love lo-fi more than I love hi-fi. Don’t get me wrong, lest you think I’m biting the hand that feeds me, I love hi-fi, but when I want toNathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats listen to something that moves me I almost always gravitate toward lo-fi. The paradox is that my favorite combination is lo-fi that is recorded really well. Lo-fi is a mindset, like jazz or the Blues – it's a way of life. Lo-fi thumbs your nose at the Man while maintaining the quality art deserves. Listen to those drums in the opening of Shoe Boot, they actually sound like drums and not some recording engineer’s idea of how he can make drums sound – that is the magic of engineering music that sadly gets lost all too often.

 

A fixture in Denver’s Americana and roots-rock scene since 2002, Rateliff was a thirty-something landscaper who refused to give up on his musical career. A regional success, national acclaim was elusive. Along with fellow 2015 breakout singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton, Rateliff is an unapologetic, unpretentious throwback to a time when Country, Soul and the Blues examined adult issues without moping – life sucks in spite of the occasional moments of joy so buckle up Sunshine because none of this is going to be particularly pleasant. Moping is for mopes, give me a glass of whiskey and stop the crying, you’re sobbing all over the bar. That’s Rateliff’s worldview and it’s amazing how refreshing that is.

 

All is not bitter bliss though. As much as Shoe Boot opened the set with all the promise of a great album to come, Be There just kind of fell flat – it was just too similar to what I’d already heard on Rateliff’s eponymous 2015 breakout album. The 2015 album was excellent and so is Tearing At the Seams, but while listening I couldn’t help but swat the word “formulaic” out of my mind. But then again, what successful artist isn't formulaic, and what the hell does that even mean anyway? There is comfort in sameness but there is also a fine line between comfort and ennui and Rateliff straddles that line, sometimes winning sometimes losing.

 

Then along comes the menacing opening to Intro and the music takes over from all of that pretentious examination. Summoning the spirits of Booker T. and the MG’s you can’t help but get swept away by the up-tempo controlled frenzy of a song that’s at once familiar and new. That my friends, is why we listen! For those of you of the vinyl persuasion, Side Two is a more cohesive and enjoyable set than Side One.

 

Tearing At the Seams not an Americana album, or a Country album, or whatever dismissive or tribalistic tag you feel compelled to place on it. Rateliff and his band have created a set that retells everything – everything they have heard, experienced or lived. They’ve just done it in a very stylistic way, reminding us along the way that we don’t always have to think about – and judge – everything. Ignore your brain for a while and all the annoying thinking it insists on constantly doing and put your feet and keister in charge for forty-six minutes. Tearing At the Seams is an excellent choice for that.

Listened on vinyl via a VPI Scout direct connected (analog) to LS50W.