Since 2015, Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff has been the raucous baritone conductor of the intoxicating soul-revivalist party The Night Sweats. But when he took to the stage on Jimmy Fallon in early January, his Telecaster was tucked away. Instead, Rateliff finger-picked an open-headstock Waterloo WL-S Deluxe acoustic, and with it, as loudly as the Night Sweats had ever crescendoed, he signified the beginning of a new chapter.
He wasn’t completely alone. He hasn’t gone full-on dude-on-a-barstool-with-a-guitar kind of solo, but the contrast of this chapter, as compared to The Night Sweats, is a whole new story. And It’s Still Alright is the album that’s played the morning after a crazy Night Sweats kind of party. It’s reflective, deep, highly personal and ultimately hopeful.
When Rateliff began writing for the new album, the songs initially centered on the pain of his unraveling relationship, but the theme of the album took a different direction when Richard Swift, his longtime friend and producer of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ two acclaimed albums, passed away in July 2018. Across the 10 tracks on And It’s Still Alright, Rateliff never loses hope — hope that it’s all part of a bigger plan. While the songs are quieter and more reflective than the exuberant soul The Night Sweats have become famous for, they are no less urgent and indelible, as he pushes the boundaries and finds new depths in his songwriting — a singular voice embarking on a personal exploration of love, loss and perseverance.
“I think I always want to see hope in the darkness, and I like to try to share that,” Rateliff said. “I always try to write from a perspective of trying to approach everything very honestly, even if it leaves me vulnerable. But overall, it’s almost like I’m a different character when I’m writing for myself. I think this album is a reminder that we all go through hardship, but regardless of the hardship everything ends up where it’s supposed to. I still continue to live and I still continue to find joy. I think that’s the theme of the record.”
To record And It’s Still Alright, Rateliff returned to Swift’s studio, National Freedom, in Cottage Grove, Oregon. He was joined by co-producers Patrick Meese (longtime collaborator and The Night Sweats drummer) and drummer James Barone of Beach House, who both also engineered and mixed the record. The album features additional contributions from DeVotchKa violinist Tom Hagerman, Night Sweats guitarist Luke Mossman, Everest bassist Elijah Thomson, keyboardist Daniel Creamer of The Texas Gentlemen and steel guitarist Eric Swanson.
Growing up in rural Missouri, Rateliff got his early music education from his family — who performed in the church band in which Rateliff played drums — and his father’s record collection.
At 19, Rateliff moved to Denver where he spent the next ten years working night shifts at a bottle factory and a trucking company while testing out songs at open-mic nights. Preceding the emergence of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Nathaniel released three albums and an EP; Desire and Dissolving Men (2007), In Memory of Loss (2010), Falling Faster Than You Can Run (2013) and the Closer EP (2014). The solo releases received critical praise — Vanity Fair proclaimed, “Rateliff demands patience from his audience, filling his songs with patches of empty space between his haunting vocals and tender thumb-picking,” while Paste furthered, “Rateliff’s rich voice and his bandmates’ textured harmonies sound like long and comfortable conversations.”
In 2015, Rateliff launched Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. The band’s self-titled debut album was a breakout success; now certified Gold in the U.S., it has sold over a million records worldwide. Their sophomore album, Tearing at the Seams, was released in March 2018 to widespread acclaim and featured three singles that hit #1 at Triple A Radio (“You Worry Me,” “A Little Honey” and “Hey Mama”).
While And It’s Still Alright is most certainly heavy, Rateliff isn’t — at least musically — in full sad-bastard territory. His voice is still as large as his stature, and on songs like the doo-wop styled groove of “Expecting to Lose,” or the large, rousing chorus of “Mavis,” and the anthemic refrain of “Time Stands,” the album is injected with plenty of feel-good rhythms and that aforementioned hope.