Nathaniel Rateliff's album 'And It's Still Alright' is ode to late friend Richard Swift and his broken marriage
Whether you call it folk music or vintage rhythm and blues, 'Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats’ latest album ‘And It’s Still Alright’ is soulful and organic and reflects the ups and downs Rateliff went through while creating it.
While it took major hard work putting together the tracks of this album amidst the daily grind of touring and following the end of a marriage, Rateliff suffered another major blow when his producer and long-time friend Richard Swift passed away due to complications from alcohol addiction, something Rateliff himself has struggled with in the past. Suddenly then, ‘And It’s Still Alright’ went from a record that dealt with the breakdown of a relationship to one that encompassed grief and loss in more than one way.
Right from the opening track ‘What A Drag’, which serves as a quiet and painful confirmation that an 11-year old relationship was reaching its end, it is clear that this album is Rateliff coming to terms with what he’s had to deal with. “So brace for things you don't know,” he sings, as we meander through towards the next track - a gut-wrenching piece that tells us Rateliff has just lost a dear friend, someone he considered his brother.
"They say you learn a lot out there / How to scorch and burn / Only have to bury your friends / Then you'll find it gets worse," Rateliff sings pensively in the title track, his vocals perfectly floating over a beautifully melancholic guitar, and gentle harmonies filling the spaces created by the simplicity of this arrangement.
Speaking about creating this record Rateliff said, "I thought the best way to do that was to go back to his place and have that energy be a part of the record. We only had eight days at Richard’s studio. In some ways, it was really cathartic; in some ways, there wasn’t really any time to think or feel about those things, either. We just kind of plowed through our time there, and then at the end, it was like, ‘It’s kind of heavy to be there and be there without Richard.’ I guess that’s the point of the whole record, though -- acknowledging the heaviness of all of that and moving forward and still finding joy. That’s the theme."
The album closes with 'Rush On' in tribute to Swift. Rateliff states, "I'm talking directly to Richard and trying to let him know that we shared the same burden. Most of us do as a part of our human experience, this unexplainable brokenness, but it’s not something we share with each other. I think that can be dangerous. I think we need to at least have a conversation and allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to admit we have those things inside of us so that the situation with Richard doesn’t happen. Those things we all have and all experience, it is singularly your experience, but it’s a part of our human experience and part of our growth. When it looks like it’s yours, it’s shattering and you feel so alone in that pain."
And that is precisely what Rateliff does on 'And It's Still Alright'. He invites us to share in his joys and sorrows, he gives us the space to process our own pain and loss. "In the greater sense, I hope they hear that willingness to be vulnerable, to question yourself and where you’re at and be able to share that with the people around you," he says.
'And It’s Still Alright’ definitely feels like a return to Rateliff's earlier indie roots, but it also feels different. Rateliff’s lyrics and vocals carry with them the weight of everything he has been through since his last release. For the singer, each release reveals a different aspect of who he is. He states, “To me, they’re all characters of myself; the Night Sweats guy is certainly one of my characters. This is just another face of myself. I like to think of it as not a full departure from the early days of the singer-songwriter in me, but I’ve certainly taken all the stuff I’ve learned from the Night Sweats -- recording, writing and even playing 200 shows a year. That really changes you, in a certain way, as a performer and a player and a writer.”
The pain behind this album feels fresh and immediate, as one would expect. But Rateliff manages to convey these emotions in a way that is powerfully raw and melodic, all at once. As Rateliff feels the catharsis that so often goes with creating music from such an honest space, we get to be a part of that healing journey with him.