August 20, 2015

heart was achin’ / hands are shakin’


Son of a bitch.

After the very first performance of Nathaniel Rateliff with the fiery soul-saving Night Sweats in 2013, I knew that I had just witnessed something electric and exceptional that struck a chord in me and everyone else in attendance that night at the Bluebird.

I immediately proclaimed them the best band in Denver, according to Heather Browne:

“My cheeks flushed all red, my friend Andrew and I just kept looking at each other with jaws dropped. As those horns wailed, the piercing songwriter troubadour (and chapel session alum) was reborn as a writhing, kicking soul singer with a seven-piece band behind him. As I surveyed the room, there was a similar look of pure joy on everyone’s faces, as Nathaniel yowled and yelled like a man possessed.”

Therefore, I was thrilled a few weeks ago when Jimmy Fallon, Questlove, and the rest of the Tonight Show-viewing world caught up with that assessment, following their explosive performance of the show-closing revival song “S.O.B.”

I can’t seem to embed it, but if you already watched it, watch it again.

I happened to be in NYC that night and got to watch it from a bar with the band, all of us singing along and clapping our hands with an assortment of friends and strangers – but even if I had been at home in my living room, I would’ve been singing along all the same. You can’t help it.

I’ve been listening to the debut album Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (due out tomorrow August 21, on the inimitable Stax Records imprint) pretty much non-stop this summer, as anyone who has come over to my place for a BBQ or a taken a mini-roadtrip with me can attest. After listening so much to all the demo versions of many of these songs since 2013, I was wondering how the full album would capture the raw joy and terrific energy of their live show. I think they did it, guys, through working with the wonderful producer Richard Swift (The Shins, Damien Jurado), and leaving a lot of space for fiery joy on the record. The album feels the way that first performance felt, and I think that’s why people responded to the Tonight Show appearance as they did. It is irresistible.

Howling At The Moon” is the track I can’t take off repeat these late summer days, because it just feels so damn good. The record also has the very best cover that I’ve seen in a long time. Perfect / badass / if it wasn’t Nathaniel, it’d be creepy. Buy the album tomorrow, and remember how great they’ve been all along:
Trying So Hard Not To Know (demo)
[from the Fuel/Friends Summer 2013 retro boogie mix]

Michael Hann at The Guardian nailed it in his terrific long piece on the band: “For now though, this is the stuff that’s reminding me how much joy music can offer. These are the shows at which I’m feeling unselfconscious and ready to cut loose. These are the shows played by people who sound like they’re making music because it’s bursting out of them. And sometimes that, rather than something that confronts the desperate heart of modern life, is what the soul craves.”


Hey, PSSSST Denver! You have two very special chances to see Nathaniel Rateliff in small South Broadway venues, to celebrate the release of this terrific album!

Monday, August 24 – where so much of it began, The Hi-Dive. Doors @ 7pm, 21+
Wednesday, August 26 – the superb Syntax Physic Opera. Doors @ 8pm, 21+

Both shows will benefit Denver’s Youth On Record music center, and since these are pretty small venues, the tickets will sell out quickly. They go on-sale in a few hours here on Nathaniel’s website.

Saturday, August 29 – come dance with me and Nathaniel (it’s all in the hips) at the Belly Up in Aspen.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats are in the middle of a massive tour all around the U.S. and Europe, from now until almost the end of 2015. Chances are good that they’ll be somewhere near you; chances are great that you will be flush-cheeked ecstatic if you go.

April 9, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #24: Nathaniel Rateliff

rateliff chapel 1

Nathaniel Rateliff may have one of the most piercingly uncommon voices I have yet welcomed into the chapel. It zings through the air when he lets it loose and it is absolutely impossible not to turn your head and gape. Nathaniel makes music that you can’t ignore, and you really don’t want to. Looking like a hard-swilling sailor stumbled off a boat on leave with his turquoise rings and pearl snaps, he disarms with his cathedral-filling voice that grew up singing in churches and, likely, breaking a heart or two.

I remember hearing Nathaniel years ago, fronting his band Born In The Flood, opening for Kings of Leon on a rainy Denver night. Even with a full, loud band behind him I could tell that this was something special. He has honed his voice as a spry instrument over the years I have known him, and now I find it as powerful in the whisper as the wail. There’s also this wry half-smile behind everything I hear Nathaniel sing, a patience and an insight that this song will, eventually, get you, as it alternates cartwheeling in the best wandering-troubadour showmanship and quietly probing in truths and failures.

Three of these songs are brand new creations, unveiled just for us in the chapel, the grey afternoon before our house show. Nathaniel seems to be in a fomenting fertile stage right now, starting new soul bands (Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, probably my favorite new band name in a good while) and playing with old friends in groups like Miss America (with longtime bandmate Joseph Pope III and other Denver luminaries, incidentally playing May 10 in Colorado Springs for The Changing Colors CD release party).

All of these new songs ache, all of them need to be listened to. I am so glad he’s writing like a maniac these days, and we get to reap the results.

rateliff chapel 2

February 21, 2013 – Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs

No Place To Fall (Townes Van Zandt)
Nathaniel started the session with this cover, which seems almost unfair to knock the wind out of me so soon. There is such a gentle lilt and cadence to the way he sings those cripplingly sad lyrics about knowing you need to fall, like a slow-motion tumble down stairs. And that sideways wince when he sings the lines, “but I’m sure wantin’ you…”. I didn’t think there was a way to make Townes songs even sadder, but somehow — there it is.

Don’t Get Too Close
This song dances almost mischievously, an easy shuffle even as it warns us not to come any closer, as if it could spin away at any moment. “Wait, don’t come any closer,” it warns, maybe kindly, maybe evasively. “It was something you couldn’t see.” (watch the video)

Forgetting Is Believing
There’s a line in one of my most-beloved poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which places us “when the evening is spread out against the sky, like a patient etherized upon a table” and in the streets there is “the yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes, licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.”

This song curls and nuzzles and rises hazily just like that, the siren song of forgetting. (watch the video)

“Can I play that?” Nathaniel asked, eyeing towards the back of the stage at the shining Steinway piano. “Yes, PLEASE,” I replied — and wow. What tumbled out of him is this rueful, elegiac hymn that tugs at long winter days and growing older in frozen slumber.

I’ve been thinking of piano a lot lately, as we fight through the final, sometimes-brutal days of Spring before Summer. Songs like this are why.


[thanks to our new film intern (just gave her that title) Kendall Rock, who did a tremendous job, to Kevin Ihle for the post-processing, and for the wonderful Blank Tape Records audio talent]

February 28, 2013

Nathaniel Rateliff transfixing the living room

Outside everything felt bluntly muffled and icy-silent under the thick blanketing of snow last Thursday, but my snow day ennui was pierced through by the voice of Nathaniel Rateliff, wowing us all in a house concert that was every bit as incredible as I’d been thinking it would be for years.

With just him and his acoustic guitar, Nathaniel held all of us contentedly squirming under the laser of that voice that can slice right through, with such purity and insight.

“Shroud” and “Laughing” are both well-loved songs off In Memory of Loss, his 2010 release on Rounder Records. Nathaniel also recorded a breathtaking chapel session with me earlier that same day, doing three new songs (one on the grand piano), and covering Townes Van Zandt’s “No Place To Fall,” which, oof. That song. Him singing it. I need a moment.

photo (3)

Desirae Garcia (of The Haunted Windchimes) opened the evening, and I think nearly stole the show. Armed only with her bass ukulele and a walloping dose of deadpan candor, her nascent solo career is going to be one to absolutely pay close attention to. The way she can deliver the simplest of lines is devastating.

photo (2)

[top video from audience member Jason: thanks]

February 6, 2013

House show announcement: Nathaniel Rateliff on February 21


I’m so pleased to announce that the next Fuel/Friends House Concert will be on Thursday, February 21 with the beguiling voice of one of Denver’s favorite sons: Nathaniel Rateliff.

I saw his music years ago when his old band Born in the Flood opened for Kings of Leon in Denver. In the years since, Nathaniel has been a consistent fixture of amazingness first with The Wheel, and now under his own name. He got to know the Mumford & Sons fellas early on, and you may have seen him on the Gentlemen of the Road caravan, or heard him play on the Mumfords’ Daytrotter, as well as three Daytrotter sessions of his own.

This show will be a fundraiser for Nathaniel. Some jerkface jerk in a stolen car rammed his touring van. Those repairs are not cheap, and we want to step up to help him, and enrich our ears in the process. We are suggesting a donation of $10-15 for this show. It starts at 7pm, February 21; location details here.

Desirae Garcia (of The Haunted Windchimes) will open the evening with her honeyed songs.

I’ll leave you with Nathaniel playing one of his songs with a dude you might recognize. So fun.

[header image by my old friend Todd Roeth]

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →