Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats – Eponymous

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Listening to Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats record, I’m carried back in time. Not quite as far as the music that is reflected in their sound, but soon after, in the age of banana-seat bikes strewn across the front lawns of suburban neighborhoods.

When I was about nine, my mom gave me a few Elvis Presley cassettes and one of those rectangular tape recorders with a single speaker and buttons bigger than my damn fingers. Even in the late 70’s, this thing was an antique. For several months, I immersed myself in the 1969 version of Presley, who was reaching for songs that filled his desire to take on a more soulful persona. The end result was an output that included the spectacular “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds.” The latter single being Presley’s last number 1 before his death in 1977.

Now while Rateliff’s label is the legendary STAX, and he certainly has steeped himself in their historical sound, he is more than a little reminiscent of the blue-eyed soul that became popular in the late 60’s. Van Morrison clearly comes to mind on “Wasting Time” and Rod Stewart’s output with the Jeff Beck Group is evident on “Trying So Hard Not To Know.” However, Rateliff is far grittier and less ethereal than that. His themes are far more relatable than Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” and hold a more universal appeal to fans of Memphis soul. That said, it would be hard to picture Stewart or Morrison dropping a line like “this shit don’t run well / it’s burned out as hell / and it’s trying so hard not know.”

To a certain degree this record is a bit of a time capsule. You wouldn’t be wrong if you suggested that the ghost of Sam Cooke was whispering into Rateliff’s ear during the recording of “Howling at Nothing” as Rateliff’s vocal phrasing is similar to the classic “You Send Me.” Then  you have his band that often come out with songs sounding as if they studied with Booker T & the MG’s.

Which brings me back to Presley…

It takes a special kind of musician to evoke a slew of soul greats and retain an energy and sound that is still their own. Springsteen did this by mixing Dylan, a preacher style intensity towards rock ‘n’ roll, a few classic soul influences, and concocted a sound all his own. Nathaniel Rateliff has taken the ’69 comeback version of Elvis, added southern rock themes and walked into a STAX studio to create a record that is instantly relatable. Of course, you would never have caught “the King” singing “son of a bitch / give me a drink” as Rateliff does on “S.O.B”. It just wouldn’t have been very, um… regal.

You may have heard the kind of sound this album produces earlier in your life, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound anything less than awesome in the present. Hell, I bet this record would even sound good off of a crappy one speaker cassette recorder… not that I have one handy…

 

The New Old Soul or Leon Bridges – Coming Home

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Let’s be clear, Leon Bridges is not the second coming of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett; he is his own singer/songwriter that has chosen to play music in a style that is familiar to fans of 60’s R&B coming out of Memphis. He’s good… really damn good, but to stand beside the Soul gods, you need more than one record of gospel inspired glory.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Bridges isn’t shooting for the stars. His music isn’t just inspired by Memphis but actually seems to embody the sound. His peer group may include contemporaries like Nick Waterhouse and Raphael Saadiq, but Bridges’ ups the game of capturing old-school R&B by pulling in music that could’ve been created by the Blues Brothers Band. He’s got the brass sounding like the legendary Memphis Horns, a deep groove reminiscent of Duck Dunn and the minimalist guitar leads that you might swear were coming off Steve Cropper. Then you mix in a style that slides in a suave 60’s Bacharach martini dance party and you get a glimpse of the power possessed in Coming Home. In essence, Bridges is the ‘new old soul.’

The title track acts as both a mission statement and anchor to the unfolding of the album. “Coming Home” rolls out as a having an influence in doo wop, gospel and a soul flavoured pop  delivered in a voice rich with southern longing. “Better Man” pulls the laundry list of things one is willing to do to access forgiveness. The themes are classic across the board. Lust (“Brown Skinned Girl” & “Smooth Sailin”), faith (“Shine”), family (“Lisa Sawyer”) love (“Flowers”) and love lost (“Pull Away”) all mingle together in a familiar Stax like setting. There is even a little nod to soul legend Sam Cooke on the song “River” which starts with a Ben E King “Stand By Me” opening before drifting off into the classic storytelling that makes one search for spiritual meaning.

Coming Home is indeed a record steeped in the traditions of past musical glories; in following that path Leon Bridges may have begun a journey towards becoming a legend himself. Time will tell.

Coming Home will be released on June 23 on all the usual formats. For vinyl fans there is a lithograph bundle that can also be picked up.

Enjoy

One of the Most Awesome Records Ever or Big Star – Radio City

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They should have been shattered upon the rocks of apathy and cast into the dark pit of ambiguity, but instead they released a record every bit the equal of their debut. Big Star’s #1 Record was critically a success but poorly distributed resulting in sales that didn’t even come close to the high expectations the band had of themselves. The result saw a heart broken singer /songwriter Chris Bell quit the band altogether. Yet Alex Chilton took Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel into the world of yet another perfect power-pop record.

Ranked #403 on Rolling Stones “Top 500 Albums of All Time” Radio City was filled with great bursts of electric guitar reminiscent of the Kinks, vocal harmonies inspired by the Beach Boys, and lyrical stories that captured the artistic simplicity of Lennon / McCartney through a Memphis filter.

Songs like “September Gurls” “Back Of A Car” and I’m In Love With A Girl” didn’t just capture a moment in time; they spoke the universal truth of teen longing and confusion in dream crushing detail. “Sittin’ in the back of a car / music so loud can’t tell a thing / thinkin’ ‘bout what to say / can’t find the lines” from “Back Of A Car” has Chilton’s vocals expressing multiple emotions with such knowing intimacy you would swear you were witness to an event.

It is near insanity to think that this amazing and powerful record is still not given the recognition it deserves as it easily stands beside the all time great albums. Actually, you may accuse me of hyperbole, but #1 Record and Radio City combined is one of the best one-two punches to be released in all rock music.

In terms of vinyl, Radio City has several options available to you. The obvious choice is to go back to the original 1974 release. Used copies of the stereo edition will set you back at least $150 while the mono version sells for over $370.

A 1986 reissue of the album sells for a much more reasonable $20.00 with a German reissue on white vinyl going around $30.00. They also came with an alternate cover.

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There is a twelve year gap to 1998 when Stax first re-mastered Radio City. You can pick used copies in the twenty dollar range.

However, your best bets come from the five vinyl editions released since 2009. Stax released a regular vinyl edition, while Classic Records Proprietary issued a re-mastered 200 gram vinyl.  These are highly coveted and sell for anywhere between $50 and $150 on the reseller market.

In 2010, a red vinyl edition was released in the UK and Europe, and has an asking price of over $30.00.

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The last re-master is still the easiest to get, and sounds great. In 2014, 4 Men With Beards released Radio City on 180 gram vinyl and you can still find copies under $30.

So many choices, and yet I would advise you to just stroll over to your local independent record store and see what they have. The 2014 reissue is still widely available.

Remember that great classic record… that never happened – The Deepest Soul of Otis Redding: Lonely & Blue

A number of years ago I stood in front of a very large glass case. Wreckage from a plane and a name on the wall beside it was the sheer bullshit that the rock hall had displayed… as if this was some kind of legacy worthy of the talent that had been Otis Redding.

As I looked around this Cleveland cathedral there was no explanation as to who he was and why he was in the hall of fame. The man who had put the mighty Stax on his back and commanded that you listen; the soul king who had the greatest band, Booker T & the MG’s as his own personal musicians in the studio; this giant who was arguably the strongest voice to emerge out of soul music’s greatest era (that saw the height of careers such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and James Brown); was reduced to a ridiculous display without context.

Message to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame…

If you are going to reflect on the legacy of a music “god”, you don’t create a display – “YOU BUILD A MOTHER FUCKIN’ ALTAR! SHRINE! & PYRAMID!”

Keeping that in mind, how would you create a new record worthy of that legacy?

Somehow the people at Stax records have managed just that… well, sort of.

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http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B009A87VW8/ref=s9_simh_gw_p15_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3DWYIK6Y9EEQB&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1JWAS4V7MX5GJ846RN77&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1949527442&pf_rd_i=915398

Obviously Lonely &Blue is a compilation of previously released material, but wow, it was done right. While being a new collection it looks like a record put out in 1966. This includes a back cover testimonial about the potency of Redding written by the fictional Marty Hackman at WDHG Detroit and overall cover artwork that has the appearance of  ‘record wear’ and stains.

The music itself is made up of Redding’s more ‘heart breaking’ material. Some of the songs are his more famous hits like “These Arms of Mine” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)”, but of far more interest (to me) was the inclusion of lesser known tracks like “Waste of Time” and “Everybody Makes A Mistake” which had not been included in the 1993 Definitive Box Set. While playing a rather sad tone throughout the entire record, it also displays the emotional depth that Redding seemed to tap with ease.

In addition to the great music, Lonely & Blue was put together with the turntable in mind. Once you open the vintage style package you find yourself looking at a beautiful piece of blue translucent vinyl.

This compilation isn’t just a great introduction into Otis Redding, but it also stands out as a wonderful exploration into his well mined theme of sorrow. So grab a glass of red wine, turn the lights low, and let a genuine soul Titan take you away to another time and place… that seems very familiar all the same.