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“I was the king of standing alone” -- Rateliff and the Night Sweats

by Nolan Cella and Paul Cella

If it sounds strange to talk of Rocky Mountain Soul, that’s because, until very recently, that sub-genre of music did not really exist; and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that a single band called it into existence.

The band we speak of, which made it fair to talk that way, only came to national prominence in 2015. Before that, the band’s frontman was reachable “for a curbside interview on any given day on South Broadway,” according to his hometown paper. I mean Nathaniel Rateliff (pronounced RATE-lif) and the Night Sweats, the R&B act out of the greatest city on the front range of the mighty Rocky Mountains.

The Queen City of the Rockies, the Mile High City: D-town stands unique. Sports-crazy, decadent, hard-Left on some things, she yet retains a distinct edge of the old granite don’t-tread-on-me attitude: the pioneer and mountain-man. For instance, marijuana decriminalization would have been impossible absent that strong strain: a lot of perfectly sober and respectable Republicans thought, “who the hell cares what those hippies waste their time on?”

By some measures one of the most secular cities in the country, Denver nevertheless boasts a vibrant Catholic diocese (the distinguished Charles Chaput, now Ninth Archbishop of Philadelphia, made a name for himself nationwide at his first archbishopric -- in Denver) and many strong biblical churches.

So the native of D-town, casting his gaze over the wide pastures of American Rhythm & Blues, and the supreme excellencies issuing forth therefrom, can only delight in the swelling pride which attends the news that Denver has its own R&B/soul genre.

“Go tell it on the mountains” holds musical as well as theological substance in Denver. Go tell it that Jesus Christ is born. Supreme king over all.

But also:

Go tell on the mountains that these dudes can play.

All that churchy stuff having been said, there’s probably never been a city better suited to have her most famous act punctuate their most famous song with this:

Son of a bitch
Gimme a drink

That opening lyrical punch hit America in the face back in 2015 on The Tonight Show, with Jimmy Fallon’s grinning introduction: “oh yeah, get ready, a party’s gonna break out right now.”

Here’s a Rolling Stone article which conveys the grittiness and inspiration behind this superb band. If you have any affinity for blues, soul, R&B: give these boys a listen. Rateliff has a fantastic voice, with range and emotion, and with his band he just rips out rocking tunes.

As has been mentioned before many times in this space, there are plenty of reasons to despair of our country, but her popular music is not one of them. Sure enough, all kinds of good music can be found and enjoyed.

So here are the Nate Rateliff and the Night Sweats song that we recommend:

S. O. B.

Straight up a classic, even though, amusingly, Rateliff himself has mixed emotions about it. He writes a throwaway, personal song about his struggles with addiction; and somehow it becomes the band’s anthem and often show-closer.

Yes, the acronym stands for exactly what it seems. They’re playing it a little blue in this one: still just a fantastic stomping song. It was the one that put them on the map.

Off color and still warning directly about the dangers of booze, the dualistic vibe might inspire someone struggling with alcoholism; or lead the rest of us on a charge to the bar.

“S. O. B.” reaches back into history and touches the spirit of Denver. Imagine you’re a cowboy in the summer of 1856, riding into the dusty old mining camp late in the evening with the sunset just barely glimmering behind the majestic peaks. You're tired and worn down from the trail but as you make your way close to the firelight of the camp you see the banquet and hear the howls. You hear feet stomping, hands clapping, glasses clicking; cheering and laughter. Welcome to Denver. Gimme a drink!

Still Out There Running

Can anyone listen to this deep-beat rhythm that gets you right in the gut, and not swing to it? Maybe. Possibly. Seems unlikely.

Especially for husbands. How is “hey baby, you set the whole thing ablaze” for a matrimonial line?

Did you catch the superb blues guitar in that song? Like so many special songwriters Rateliff just finds a way to pluck the tender chords.

yeah baby, you set the whole thing on fire
I was the king of standing alone
Looking back to see how far you've flown
I ain't grown and I ain't changed at all”

This song presents the modern male dilemma in the face of marriage/commitment. The fire and the fear.

Tearing at the Seams

Here we have the divorce song, from Rateliff’s most recent record. He and his wife split, which is a shame. Broken marriages. Harsh and emotional.

Every divorce is a tragedy, but this tune has the virtue of conveying that broken family agony in an honest and unadorned manner. Vocals are reminiscent of Van Morrison with “And It Stoned Me,”; Joe Cocker doing the Beatles; or dare we say the legendary Otis Redding with “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember”? Solid tune. The blues guitar that leads into “they’re gonna have to drag us away” pretty much drags us away.

“I Need Never Get Old

Upbeat like the Colorado blue sky, here’s a song that encourages -- which means “to lend or give courage” to someone else. Great music exemplifies that quality: to give to someone else bravery and boldness (hopefully in the service of justice.)

babe come on and mean it
and mean it to me
I need it so bad

Fantastic stuff that carries so much passion; takes courage to be vulnerable.

Say it Louder

This song very effectively conveys Rateliff at his recording best. Just a fun song on all levels.

You Should Have Seen The Other Guy

This is the ideal song to get a taste of his early acoustic work. It shows off his song writing skills:

them was big ol’ boys
had fists like cinder and stone

Tells a story; paints a sad, challenging, yet poignant picture. Blues harmonica and then Rateliff’s tremendous howling voice to finish. Superb.

Still Trying

Also from his early work when he was this melancholy singer-songwriter persona. These are the roots of the tree that grew into the Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. When you hear this early work, Rateliff’s talent emerges palpably; but at the same time the limitations help to crystalize why his transition to the full R&B band was so fitting. There’s something there, alright, but it is not quite differentiated enough. It’s a derivative feel. Something is clearly missing. His post 2015 stuff it just richer and deeper. It carries a love and positivity that comes from failing. We all learn from our failures.

I Been Failing

Wonderfully short and still says so much. The tinkle on the piano gives you the feeling of being in a western saloon. The optimism of this song comes through: We’re all human and we fail, but when you love someone and you struggle to meet their expectations, you plead: “I can’t stop trying. I can’t stop trying. I can’t stop trying.”

You Worry Me

An energetic jam with terrific rhythm led by a hypnotizing guitar. Lyrics: simple and up-lifting, but filled with trepidation. Just begging everyone to “Leave it all out there to dry” as if inspiring folks to always put their full heart into it. Leave it all on the field, man. The tough part is that there is always fear that comes with that. You worry me.

What I Need

Only available on the the EP A Little Something More that followed closely on the first Night Sweats album.

The way this opens it just hits so hard with power and emotion. Can’t help but feel it. So much heart. Hard soul, and love. There are those Otis/Van/Cocker vocals again. The horns add power and then it slows to a heartfelt melody with that tear-jerking howl that is his trademark. Are they tears of sadness? Joy? Both? And the song put the the talent of the entire band on full display with the instrumental bridge and finishes dramatically in a rock n’ roll crescendo.

Howling At Nothing” (Red Rocks version)

We conclude with a straight blues-rock tune. What you get here is a sample of these fellas performing full band partytime. You also get Rateliff’s unique vocals. “Dancing ‘til we flat out fallin’ into bed.”

Go see this band live. They weave musical genres together with outstanding artistry. The studio work glides in an out with twists and turns while still maintaining the unity of their catalog. Their shows are a fantastic party. The way Rateliff has a habit of greeting the adoring crowds as “friends” just sets the tone so perfectly. They’re fun-loving and they overflow with an understanding of fallen, tragic human nature. Sure, all great bands touch this in their own way, but the way the Night Sweats do it is with an energy of confession, pleads of forgiveness, shows of affection, acceptance, and finally redemption. Get a taste of this on the Live At Red Rocks Album. Not only is Rateliff and crew at their best, but this recorded concert features the New Orleans Preservation Hall Brass Band which just puts a perfect cherry on top.

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