NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS
Enmore Theatre, March 7
Nathaniel Rateliff in company with his not wholly savoury-sounding band the Night Sweats, is exactly the kind of act useful for settling arguments. But also for starting another one.
A friend of mine is constantly perplexed by the divisions between soul and rhythm & blues, southern soul and northern soul, R&B and funk, country soul and soulful country. Basically, asking me: where’s the line? You’re making this up aren’t you?
Confused too about how I can put people like the sainted duo of Bobbie Gentry and Dusty Springfield – blessed be their names and their recordings - in the same general field as Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin. In essence, asking me: are you mad?
Rateliff, a tenor built like a baritone (burly, bushy), and his six-piece band built in classical soul form (twin brass, bass/guitar/drums/organ) make the connection between country music and soul far simpler than any explanation I’ve ever offered this friend.
The mix of lonesome and lonely, drinking and loving, backroom and dancefloor is constantly at play here. It’s an interplay of American roots that not surprisingly at times recalls The Band and Van Morrison, while there are many moments I can hear Lyle Lovett’s Big Band more than I can hear Booker T & The MGs.
It’s definitely drawing more from the bar than the church, so that testifying is replaced with celebration. But secular or spiritual, the collective, the shared, is still the key: as with the fact every person on stage sings, there’s no place on the floor to be just an observer.
A Night Sweats gig is energy and showmanship: often the beginning of a Rateliff song is like a direct injection of ultra vitamin B into the collective arse of the audience so that come the chorus we can match the bundles of action on either end of the stage in keyboardist/tambourine wielder/vocalist Mark Shusterman and guitarist/vocalist Luke Mossman.
But it’s also something a bit plainer. Bassplayer Joseph Pope and drummer Patrick Meese keep working their end like a reminder of work to be done; trumpeter Nick Etwell and saxophonist Andy Wild are like punctuation marks on each musical sentence; and Rateliff’s easy warmth and voice pulls us in for a yarn.
As Jake and Elwood would tell you, it’s both kinds of music: country and soul.
Interestingly, playing some Night Sweats recordings on the way home from the gig there was a noticeable difference in connection and reward between studio and stage versions.
Was this down to good but not particularly special songs being lifted by the punch and pleasure of a live band, or the studio not being able to bottle the magic the songs have?
That’s the argument my friend and I can have next.