Son of a bitch, give us a new record. That call was answered by one Nathaniel Rateliff this past Friday with And It’s Still Alright, his latest solo release. Rateliff has oscillated between solo artist and group frontman throughout the course of his career, firstly by turning down a Roadrunner Records deal with his first group Born In The Flood to strip things back with a new, stripped-back group, The Wheel. Following the release of Desire and Dissolving Men, the Wheel’s sole album as of now, Rateliff went on to record In Memory of Loss and Falling Faster Than You Can Run as a solo artist before cracking the mainstream with the Night Sweats in 2015.
Now, 5 years after “S.O.B” and the Sweats’ eponymous debut (and 3 after their follow-up Tearing At The Seams), Rateliff has momentarily shelved the Stax soul revival formula that brought him to prominence to peel back down to bare basics again. “What A Drag” opens things up, a straight and potent dose of pop-folk true to Rateliff’s past. “And It’s Still Alright” takes the pop piece out of the equation and goes clean back to the deepest depths of the woods, evoking acoustic campfire vibes of all possible types. “All Or Nothing” is a monumental, partially orchestral throwback, maintaining hints of roots and folkiness while dabbling heavy in elements of 50s and 60s radio ballads.
“Expecting To Lose” opens up a bit more soulfully, eventually getting more bluesy and folky and graduating into a swamp-shack stomp. The strings come back for “Tonight #2”, a tender bout of fingerpicking with an old school country tinge, while the slightly garbled “Mavis” comes alive with a rousing choral backing. “You Need Me” traces back to the earthy folk and country of earlier on, moved along by an ever-subdued train beat and some light and easy harmony work.
“Time Stands” concocts a solid fusion of emotional strings and powerful folk, reiterating Rateliff’s capacity for channeling great amounts of feeling and energy outside of making fun, danceable hits as well. “Kissing Our Friends” is all about the bare essentials: a man, his guitar, his voice and his emotions; a reprieve not necessarily obligatory in a record like this but certainly a nice touch nevertheless. “Rush On” takes things out with a somber, heartfelt musing on the death of a dearly beloved (or at least someone close by), rounding out the emotional gamut run on Alright from bright, momentous highs to deep and unquestionable lows.
As if it hadn’t already been proven, Nathaniel Rateliff is an artist with a firm, pure and ever-growing grasp over himself and his craft, staking out a clear identity for himself after standing on the shoulders of giants years on end to find it. And It’s Still Alright brings this point home even more, serving as a well-thought out return to roots after hitting greater success so things don’t get too out of control- and the artist in question does not forget who he is in the process. And It’s Still Alright is more than alright, and may the great sonic streak Rateliff has found himself on in the last few years continue, as it likely will.