Nathaniel Rateliff is the greatest American singer alive today. It might take you a while to find that out if your first exposure to him is his new album with his new band, The Night Sweats. You've got to start somewhere.
I first heard Rateliff about five years ago. His album, "In Memory of Loss" was listed as one of the best of the year on Amazon. I bought it and found it miraculous. It took about four listenings until I could figure out what was going on. There were lyrics that didn't rhyme and songs that seemed to end before they were over. There were pauses and rhythms that stepped out of time. There was singing that sounded like talking, like the man was sitting just on the other side of a dying campfire with his guitar telling you the saddest story you ever heard. He has all of your attention, and then you realize you are listening to a simple marvel. Songs. Something mournful that seeps warmly into your bones like soup with a spice you can't identify but know like the memory of an old uncle's boots.
Listening to Rateliff is like listening to a man beyond pretense. It is music without artifice. its only embellishment is its own deep soul, plaintive power and lonesome wailing. It has a purity. It makes you say yes that's exactly how a harmonica should sound right there.
One day I'm going to come back and perfectly describe Rateliff, but perfect is the enemy of good. In the meantime I'm going to just leave you with his lyrics.
When you get tired of wings that carry you nowhere
You stretch out your arms to see if the wind will blow you over
It seems like it's tightening the line in the crease of your shoulder
But never enough to get off the ground
Remember the good work you done