After two successful records with The Night Sweats, Nathaniel Rateliff has returned to his solo work to give us a record dealing with a more personal theme: that of loss. The end of a long term relationship and the death of a dear friend are both documented within And It’s Still Alright and whilst the subject matter may initially lead listeners to think they will be getting a melancholy record, actually they get a record which has a message of hope and carrying on despite the hardships.
Rateliff is a natural storyteller and as such draws you into the songs presented, starting with ‘What A Drag’ which deals with the breakup of his marriage: “There’s not a last dance, and no one really wins”. The second and title track ‘And It’s Still Alright’ then touches on the death of friend and collaborator Richard Swift.
Initially, the record was conceived as a side project with Swift, one in which Rateliff would bring songs and Swift would “go nuts on them”, with Rateliff and Swift discussing songs and how they could produce them: “We had this vision of making it like a Nilsson album. We were both big fans of Nilsson Sings Newman and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. We thought you can’t ever have too much Nilsson.”
You still get that feel on some of the songs like ‘What A Drag’ and ‘All Or Nothing’. There is also a distinct feel of Roger Miller throughout, with songs touching into numerous genres and the occasional “doo-doo-doo’s” thrown into choruses (such as ‘You Need Me’) as well as Rateliff’s voice and guitar being the dominant forces in a very Miller-like way (‘Kissing Our Friends’).
Talking about ‘You Need Me’, Rateliff says: “I find out what I’m really thinking when I put it down in a song. It’s surprising and a little unnerving for me to see it now.” With it’s catchy refrain and acoustic guitar driving the melody, it’s a very easy song to get stuck in your head, I found myself humming it whilst doing the dishes the day after hearing it for the first time.
After the passing of Swift, Rateliff enlisted the help of Patrick Meese (drummer with the Night Sweats) and James Barone (drummer with Beach House) to help produce the record. They headed to Swift’s studio in Oregon and set about recording. Much of the record has strong emotions tied to it, this is apparent not least with the closing song Rush On which Rateliff uses to say goodbye to his friend, a raw and guttural send off.
The development of Rateliff’s musicianship and voice becomes apparent on this record. This lies somewhere further on then his previous solo work. Rateliff’s voice as an instrument shines through and his guitar is used well to keep much of the instrumentation deceptively simple, quite the accomplishment considering the additional instruments on the record including the string section.
This record has quickly become a favourite of mine and will no doubt introduce fans of the Night Sweats to a more contemplative and vulnerable Rateliff, albeit one who retains hope. “Regardless of where I’m at after Richard’s death and my divorce, and getting older, I still continue to live and I still continue to find joy. I think that’s the theme of the record.”