Nathaniel Rateliff (photo by Rett Rogers, PR)
And It’s Still Alright
Nathaniel Rateliff was recording music long before he connected with the Night Sweats. Longtime fans of the man already know this fact, but later listeners who fell for the raucous energy of Rateliff and his Night Sweats bandmates might not.
Following two studio albums, a live album, and an EP with that very successful configuration, Rateliff is revisiting his days on his own as a singer-songwriter with his new album, And It’s Still Alright, the third such solo project and his first without the Night Sweats since 2013’s Falling Faster Than You Can Run.
And It's Still Alright was born from a writing retreat that Rateliff attended back in 2017, when he was writing the final songs for the second album with the Night Sweats, 2018's Tearing at the Seams. But the workshop also led to something different: a slower, reflective song called "What a Drag," not appropriate for the hell-raising Night Sweats. While Rateliff didn't intend to swerve solo, that’s exactly what happened.
“What A Drag” reflected on Rateliff's own failing marriage and was the seed of And It’s Still Alright, an album steeped in more than romantic heartbreak. While coping with the end of his marriage, Rateliff was profoundly shaken when his close friend, the producer and musician Richard Swift, fell ill and died in 2018. Swift, who had produced both studio albums by Rateliff and the Night Sweats, had battled alcoholism; Rateliff had also struggled in the past with drinking. (Rateliff, a performer at 2019's Holiday Cheer for FUV, spoke at length, and with great emotion, about the impact of Swift's death during his set.)
Before Swift’s passing, the two friends discussed the possibility of collaborating on Rateliff's next solo album. For Rateliff, the challenge was making that solo record a reality without his friend's presence and Swift's death became the central impetus behind its development: And It’s Still Alright is dedicated to Swift.
The songs“What A Drag” and “All Or Nothing” might be influenced by the end of Rateliff’s marriage, but the emotional wounds in these songs are cloaked behind lightly upbeat arrangements. In “All Or Nothing,” which channels a Harry Nilsson vibe, Rateliff sings to his partner, “I want back from you all the hours that I cowered/While you corrected everything I’d say.”
While the title track is directly about Swift and his death, it’s the rawness of the sparse “Rush On” that leaves a lasting impression. Rateliff sings in an impassioned voice which dips at times into a mournful wail: “I hoped it would heal or you’d wake when it was over/Now counting the days since your breath had closed your eyes.”
And It's Still Alright opts for a less is more approach, allowing the lyrics to sit front and center. Instrumentation is kept to a minimum as Rateliff’s powerhouse voice pierces the darkness like a beacon in the night. Strings enrich a number of these songs in a way that's similar to the horns that adorn the Night Sweats’ material.
Naturally, Rateliff wrote all of the songs. The album was primarily recorded at Swift’s Oregon studio, with additional work being done in several studios in Colorado. Rateliff produced the album with James Barone and Patrick Meese, the drummer for the Night Sweats. Rateliff and Meese are also the album’s main musicians, with other musicians, like Night Sweats' guitarist, Luke Mossman contributing.
Rateliff's goals for And It's Still Alright are simple: making sense out of life’s struggles, channeling emotions and staying on steady on your feet in the thick of grief. It’s an album Rateliff had to make for his own well-being. For those who have suffered similar wounds, it’s a cathartic work. For every raucous Saturday night party with the Rateliff and the Night Sweats' music blaring in the background, there’s an empty, lonely Sunday morning that begs for an album like And It’s Still Alright.
Look for a new FUV Live session with Nathaniel Rateliff, airing at 7 p.m. on Monday, February 17 on 90.7, streaming online and available on demand. Rateliff also performs at New York's The Town Hall as part of Live From Here on Saturday, February 22. That show will air on WFUV on Sunday, February 23 at 6 p.m. In addition, Rateliff appears at The Town Hall on March 12 and 13.