I’ve been a fan of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats since the first time S.O.B. popped up on Pandora while cooking dinner one night. The self-titled debut album from the Colorado-by-way-of-Missouri-based band was a top-to-bottom foot stomper, and their follow up, A Little Something More From…, did a great job at avoiding the sophomore slump.
Compared to the soft and slumpy sound of Rateliff’s solo albums (which are still decent, just not as much my style), his work as/with the Night Sweats has been solid, consistent, and more importantly, fun.
And in Tearing at the Seams, Rateliff and the gang keep the shoe companies in business getting everyone to wear theirs out. That tearing at your shoe seams, for this album, starts the very moment the needle drops on the first track…
1. Shoe Boot (85 points)
This is how you open an album. A kick-drum-heavy, hi-hat tapping drum line, leading into a really groovy bass line, just to intro the New Orleans brass-band style horn section. This song is, apparently, how Rateliff tells the listener, “you may think you bought an album, but you’re gonna get a show.” To start that show, he’s going to invite you out on the floor to dance.
Meet me by the corner.
I know a place to go.
Oh, maybe, we’ll love each other.
Oh, maybe, I don’t know.
2. Be There (80 points)
Rateliff doesn’t let off the throttle yet. The foot-stomping, hand-clapping beat that’s become a Rateliff staple supports the Motown-style hollow body guitar and horn line combo. That leads into a hammond organ backing to Rateliff’s sharp baritone vocals. The classic mean-woman-be-nice-to-me tale is well-written and well-arranged, and a great listen with windows open in the car.
3. A Little Honey (85 points)
A Little Honey shifts sound gears from foot-stomping to head-bobbing, with a smooth thump-beat and major-key piano open. It has the feeling of a late-70s pop song, almost. The brief minor-key switch before the major-key chorus is a great little trick to build the song. This is great “lights off” music, and Rateliff makes no beans about it.
Come on now, baby.
You speak to soft and slow.
Come on now, baby.
You think that I don’t know.
I need some honey.
Come on now baby, and…
4. Say it Louder (80 points)
We advance a decade with Say it Louder, with a bit of a feel of late-80s Lionel Ritchie or Grateful Dead. The grooving bassline and slightly-overdriven guitar dominate the sound, instead of Rateliff’s more typical kick drum and horn line. Rateliff’s vocals really shine in this one, taking that new-vintage sound and making it sound full-on classic. Granted, that’s just what his voice does in general, but in a song that would probably be a little flat otherwise, Rateliff’s vocals make it simply enjoyable. This is one of those backyard beer songs.
5. Hey Mama (90 points)
In the first track (in line) that Rateliff has really put a push on, he turns on the emotion. A conversation between a son who’s hit a rough patch, and a mother who is trying her best to keep things together, and push her kid to keep going.
You ain’t gone far enough to say,
At least I’ve tried.
You ain’t worked hard enough to say,
Well I’ve done mine.
You ain’t run far enough to say,
My legs have failed.
This is a great song in the way it’s written, the way it’s composed, and the way it’s arranged. The acoustic guitar open leads into a classic smooth bassline and un-messed-with Telecaster adding a little sad brightness, and the steel guitar in the back helps build the scene of working-class life in Rateliff’s native rural Missouri. The horn line comes in just to split the verses, and emphasize the mother’s entreaties. Brilliant piece of work.
6. Babe I Know [f/ Lucius] (85 points)
This one has a mellow, Willie Nelson feel to it. Rateliff’s vocals over the acoustic guitar opening could easily be swapped out for Nelson’s. You can just imagine this one being crooned out in the back of a bus on the road. The backup vocals, mostly oohs and ahs, contributed by Lucius, along with a small string section in the background, really add to the classic chops. Great, easy listening, thoughtful track.
7. Intro (85 points)
Track 7 is…an odd place to put an intro track. But it does make for a fun intermission. Intro is the kind of junk-food, knee-slapping, high-spirit Rateliff trip that makes so much of his music so fun. The saxophone solo in the middle, splitting up Rateliff’s verses belted out in an Otis Redding-style screaming staccato is a blast. So, this is Rateliff’s way of saying, “the second half of the show is on, hope you got your beer in time!”
8. Coolin’ Out [f/ Lucius] (90 points)
Indie-pop group Lucius makes their second appearance in Coolin’ Out, and this is the track you want to start off with if you’re cleaning the house. The opening, deep, doop-doop bassline misleads you into a snare-happy, bright piano hit. The high-energy sound juxtaposes Rateliff’s relatively mellow vocals split by Lucius carrying the doop-doo-wah sound from the bass into the treble clef with their group backing vocals. The baritone sax tracking he bass guitar helps lend to the fun nature of this song.
9. Baby I Lost My Way, (But I’m Going Home) (80 points)
This is a great, jazzy number, that helps support Rateliff’s claim to not being a one-trick pony. The big floor tom and ride cymbal sound you’d typically expect to open a big band song feature here in a great, lounge-act song. The semi-walking bassline and echo effect on the hollow body guitar combine with another hammond organ combine that lounge sound with a little surf rock. It’s an interesting song, and has interesting lyrics to go with it.
I’ve been stumbling down the mountain.
I’ve been stumbling by the sea.
I’ve been stumbling in the dust.
I can taste it on my teeth.
But the way I know.
Oh, baby I’ve lost my way, but I am going home.
This is a neat song to have on when driving at night.
10. You Worry Me (75 points)
This is Rateliff’s made-for-radio single. The Telecaster with the echo effect playing off the rear pickup over the driving bassline would be at home on either a modern rock or country western station. That’s something that I find endearing about most of Rateliff’s work. It’s just the right amount of retro rock, classic country, and modern playing that it can be a little bit of everything to everyone without feeling forced.
At the same time, as good as this song is, it also wears out quickly, which is unusual for Rateliff. It’s not the same level of fun as the rest of the album is, and maybe it’s because he did build this track for Top-40 airplay.
Then again, maybe I’m nuts. It’s happened before.
11. Still Out There Running (85 points)
Rateliff always throws a slow-song-that’s-only-kind-of-a-slow-song on each album, and this is that. The addition of a clarinet playing in its lower register to the horn line opening is pleasant. That echoed Telecaster is back, and spends about a third of its time in this track as almost a percussion instrument. Again, a nice effect. Rateliff’s eyes-closed vocals at times evoke memories of Randy Owens. This is one to queue up after A Little Honey when the lights are out.
12. Tearing at the Seams (90 points)
This title track is the classic style of track Rateliff does so well. Simple small-kit drumline, heavy on the hi-hat, clean guitar and bass, rolling hammond organ, minimal horns. Rateliff’s emotional vocals really carry this track with an almost-gospel feel to them. A good way to close out the album. Especially with Rateliff building up to belting out “They’re gonna have to drag us away!” at the end.
Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks
Those of you who decide to snag the Deluxe Edition of the album get two bonus tracks. Not my favorite way of doing things, but then again, whatever you have to do to boost sales, right? Thing is, if you’re going to do bonus tracks as a selling point, they need to be as good as the rest of the album. But these are more session outtakes that really don’t do much for me…
13. I’ll Be Damned (70 points)
The higher-speed minor-chord piano on top of the hi-hat is a bit of an overused way to open a song, but it seems to work here. However, about a minute in, the rest of the band joins in, and the horn line changes the apparent tempo to make the song much more interesting. If you swap out the vocals, you can almost imagine Gary Puckett doing this song, especially when the full band is roaring (which isn’t a bad thing). But overall, this song is a little underwhelming compared to the rest of the album.
14. Boiled Over (65 points)
This ethereal song is something seemingly new from Rateliff. It has a bit more a feel of his solo work, which is a little off-beat. It starts off with soft drums, an oddly-processed guitar, and some synth-strings that make me think more of Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter than anything Rateliff has done. But while No Quarter builds to a psychedelic crescendo, Boiled Over never gets past luke warm.
Overall Score: 88 points
Even at its weakest moments, Tearing at the Seams is a sharp, creative album. At it’s best, its emotional, fun, and has several tracks that make you want to hit the “back” button for another spin. And for this to come on his third album, that’s not something to sniff at in these days of hot rockets that tend to burn out. The ability to put out three great albums in a row is putting Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats in the same company as The Black Keys, Jack White and his various projects, and others that can churn out quality content with eerie regularity. Well done, guys.
Did you find this review worth something?
Well, if you found it to be nice enough to make you want to pick yourself up a copy of Tearing at the Seams, maybe get your copy from one of the links below? That way, they’ll toss me a few nickels and I can get myself something from the vending machine.
Get Tearing at the Seams from: