With Tearing at the Seams, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats double down on the more maximalist approaches employed on their 2015 self-titled debut and 2016 EP A Little Something More, making dynamic use of driving rhythms, ample horns, and big-sound productions. The album revolves, as one would expect, around Rateliff’s resourceful songwriting and charismatic vocals, the frontman and songwriter drawing from a wide variety of influences.
The album’s opening track, “Shoe Boot,” features a funky and intriguingly cacophonous intro that segues into Rateliff’s Joe Cocker-esque vocal – a rollicking start to an album that quickly gains traction. On “A Little Honey,” Rateliff’s vocal reminds me of John Popper circa Blues Traveler’s mega-popular Four, The Night Sweats providing adrenalized rhythms and complementary flourishes.
“Hey Mama” offers a change of tempo, Rateliff and band navigating Van Morrison territory; upbeat and confident vocals sustained; percussion, horns, and guitar well-blended and buoyant. “Intro” makes use of a roadhouse rhythm and trebly synths. Rateliff enters the mix at the one-minute mark, offering an old-school “ah ha hey hey” – a gritty and gravelly variation on Smokey Robinson’s “Going to a Go Go.”
“Baby I Lost My Way (But I’m Going Home)” is Rateliff’s noteworthy tribute to any number of Phil Spector-produced bands, including Ike and Tina Turner, as well as, perhaps, Jay Hawkins (not Phil Spector-produced), whose “I Put a Spell on You” is, I’d wager, a Rateliff fave (I’d assume that he’s partial to versions by Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and CCR as well).
“You Worry Me” is an exemplary neo-R&B track and could easily appear on an anthology (or a Pandora, Rhapsody, or Spotify station) alongside tunes by St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Alabama Shakes. The track also aptly illustrates the range of sources innovatively absorbed and reconfigured by Rateliff and company – the '60s and '70s Motown canon; gospel and blues-infused Americana, including Dylan, The Band, The Allman Brothers, and The Black Crowes; and the pop-rock/R&B-inflected wave of the mid-late '90s, including Dave Matthews, Edwin McCain, and Hootie and the Blowfish. The intro to the closing title song hints at Otis Day and the Knights’ “Shout,” transitioning into another finger-snapping, car-dancing tune, Rateliff’s soulful vocal reminiscent of Ray LaMontagne circa Trouble.
While the abovementioned debut and EP lean toward instrumental nuance and melodic hooks more strikingly than Tearing at the Seams (I’ve been singing/humming “In the Parlor,” the opening track of the EP, for days now), Tearing … is an indefectible template for the boisterous and rowdy approach, a set that should translate well live, especially in smallish and midsized venues. Furthermore, these 12 tracks affirm Rateliff as a versatile songwriter and gifted singer. Similarly The Night Sweats prove themselves an indomitable supporting act; one that, with time, may well rise to the level of back-up bands that undoubtedly stand as their heroes, groups such as The J.B.’s, The E Street Band, The Dap-Kings, and Booker T. & The M.G.’s, among others.