Across his first three records, Nathaniel Rateliff was just another Americana troubadour armed with a twanging guitar and a husky singing voice. But he rips it up and starts again on album number four, recruiting a six piece soul crew and adopting the rambunctious persona of a bar-room blues crooner from back in the day.
Arriving with the blessing of storied soul label Stax, the experiment is mostly a success. Rateliff sounds like a wild west Nick Cave on ‘Howling At Nothing’. Elsewhere he evokes Otis Redding on Look It Here and, with single S.O.B., explores the artistic potential of bottomless self-pity (“Son of a bitch get me a drink,” he yelps, sounding like he means it).
Soul revival is one of the stories of the summer, with Alabama Shakes’ second album topping the charts in the US and Leon Bridges on course to sell-out Dublin’s Olympia. Rateliff is operating in the same tradition, though there is a sense that he has lived the sentiments behind the songs rather than simply paid heed to the formal contours of the music.
That the LP sometimes resembles dinner party muzak for the edgier diner is not necessarily a criticism. Rateliff comes across as quite self conscious and earnest in his emulation of the ghosts of soul’s past and the absence of anything approaching an original idea is more than ameliorated by the project’s fine-tuned swagger.