Staff Picks

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats - The Future

The Future effectively combines provocative lyrics married to the Sweats’ trademarked attack; one that’s successful, even triumphant, and paves the way for more of the same in forthcoming endeavors.

Album - Nathaniel Rateliff - The Future | Stax (2021)

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Only the most fervent Americana fans were aware of Nathaniel Rateliff before his 2015 debut with his seven-piece band the Night Sweats.

That explosive, gold-certified record introduced the gruff-voiced singer/songwriter to a worldwide audience, eager to support his soul, R&B and rock-laced sound.

It was a major transformation from the pensive, largely acoustic work he had previously chronicled, both with earlier outfit The Wheel and solo on tiny indie labels.

A rollicking 2017 live album and the appropriately titled Tearing at the Seams studio recording followed, solidifying the Night Sweats’ earthy attack. But Rateliff was intent on featuring his more introspective side; especially after a painful divorce and the death of his first producer Richard Swift. The result was 2020’s return to his reflective roots, eschewing the band’s name, horns and rugged soul for the meditative And It’s Still Alright.

It was a courageous, even audacious move, and it worked. The ruminative collection was met with far greater acclaim than his pre-Sweats work from a newfound audience, perhaps not familiar with his older material.

Since both sides of Rateliff were now revealed, the next phase was to combine the two on the long-awaited third group effort, The Future.

Written and recorded during the pandemic, Rateliff reflects on this challenging, uncertain time in the set’s lyrical themes. That ambiguity is displayed on ‘Survivor’, the first single, where he sings “I’m afraid the weight of the world is catching up with you / I’m afraid to admit it’s catching up to me too” over a heart-pounding rhythm section that’s equal parts funk and rock, the horns punctuating the groove.

Rateliff’s lyrics have always been well crafted, but his darker side is now apparent. The opening title track - a song espousing a religious and political fervor - features crying pedal steel, gospel backing vocals and Rateliff singing like he just listened to Bob Dylan’s New Morning with “Well they’ll come to steal and divide / All that’s good”.

The Night Sweats’ wallop is full of potency on tracks like ‘So Put Out’, which taps into some post-divorce anger as he howls “Even now you let me down / you’re still so put out / you’re loud and run your mouth” over a relentless thrusting thump.

The songs range from the bittersweet ballad ‘Baby I Got Your Number’, featuring Rateliff’s most supple singing, to the bouncy reggae-tinged ‘Oh I’, and the soulful Motown drive of the closing ‘Love Don’t’. The latter's pumping drums, driving horns and robust, husky vocals is a textbook example of this act’s collective strengths.

While the three-piece horn section is a key ingredient in the Night Sweats’ sound, they never solo and generally stay on a low boil, enhancing the songs yet lacking a tougher, jazzy edge that would bring another dimension to the sound.

It’s something of a missed opportunity but a minor criticism on this return to form for Rateliff and his band.

The Future effectively combines provocative lyrics married to the Sweats’ trademarked attack; one that’s successful, even triumphant, and paves the way for more of the same in forthcoming endeavors.

8.5/10

The Future is out on Friday 5th November via Concord / Stax. You can purchase the record from Holler's selected partners below:

Album - Nathaniel Rateliff - The Future | Stax (2021)

Stax | 2021

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