Review: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats' “The Future” - Rolling Stone
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Nathaniel Rateliff’s Throwbacks Wear Well on ‘The Future’

The Colorado band’s latest album is full of well-turned retro moves and reaches for a deeper meaning

nathaniel rateliff the night sweats

Danny Clinch*

It’s been six years since Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats electrified The Tonight Show with their brawny rave-up “S.O.B.,” delivering a scorching performance that launched one of the more unlikely breakout stars of the viral-sensation era. Rateliff was a burly middle-aged guy from Colorado whom Jimmy Fallon had stumbled across via a YouTube clip, and the Nights Sweats’ rustic look suggested they might feel more at home hanging out at Big Pink in 1968. But the command of retro-soul they displayed on their self-titled 2015 debut and its 2018 follow-up, Tearing at the Seams, was undeniable, partly because Rateliff worked a little Leonard Cohen-style introspect into his Ray Charles-inscribed belting.

That mix of Sixties groove workouts and Seventies singer-songwriter truth-seeking pays off on their third album, The Future. The title track kicks off sounding like the Bob Dylan of Desire if he’d recorded that album at Muscle Shoals. Good-natured vamps like “Something Ain’t Right” and “Survivor” strive to find rays of hope in our garbage times, musically hulking out with swelling horns and deliberate, nuanced muscle, as if the Night Sweats are a gang of bar buddies patting Nathaniel on the back as he decides to man up and take on reality. “Gotta sing a lot of soul to know how to feel it,” he offers on “Something Ain’t Right,” an ode to the cathartic power of making music.

That’s a good theme for this band, who sound inspired even when they’re merely channeling influences. The Night Sweats often suggest a more wide-open, somewhat jam-band-y Rocky Mountain version of the Dap-Kings’ funk-soul attack, and you can imagine The Future appealing equally to fans of Dave Matthews and Amy Winehouse. Their lived-in versatility is always impressive — from the gale-force Van Morrison gusto of “Love Me Til I’m Gone,” to the Funk Brothers pulse that pushes “Love Don’t,” to the low-key Bill Withers-style romance of “Baby I Got Your Number.” Rateliff’s ability to go from conversational coffeehouse mutter to roadhouse bluster has a similar dynamic command, and it makes the music feel urgent even when his lyrics don’t rise above well-intentioned bromides; the heart-yanking gospel grandeur of “Face Down in the Moment” deserves something a little more specific than “every moment that you wait now is a moment slipped away,” and “I’m On Your Side” lands its search for solace on lines like “there’s a chance to see if we just open up our eyes.”

If Rateliff just saw himself as a history-loving belter riffling through received idioms, it wouldn’t really matter. But he’d clearly like to say something with his music, and the singer-songwriter side of his talent doesn’t always come into focus. Still, unlike plenty of guys in hats and beards who’d like to make meaning, he never sounds self-serious, pompous, or sanctimonious. He’s too generous for that, a crowd-pleaser at heart.

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