Since the release of their debut single, S.O.B, back in _____ the Night Sweats have gone from strength to strength. After having toured internationally and headlined festivals across the states, Nathaniel Rateliff (who first became known to many as the quiet one in the road trip documentary Austin to Boston) and his band have returned with their second album, Tearing at the Seams. While it is not quite as strong as their self-titled debut, wherein every track could have stood on its own as a single, their sophomore collection still has all the authentic charm of its predecessor.
The LP’s opening track Shoe Boot is jazzy, discordant, with elements of Tom Waits in its chaotic style. It’s somewhat of a departure from the Night Sweat’s usual traditional bluegrass style, but the follow-up song, Be There, sounds like it could have been from their first album with its beat-centric melody and nostalgic, romantic lyrics. Going on from here, the songs combine elements of these two to define the band’s new sound: a little looser than it was before, a little more relaxed, but still the kind of Americana rock that they brought back from the dead in 2015.
Hey Mama is the first of the slow, mournful tracks on the album – something that Rateliff excels at (I have a signed vinyl of his solo record In Memory of Loss, a work about his late father. Yes, it cost me a damaging amount of money. No, I have no regrets). The rest of the band’s acoustics keep it from becoming too stripped and simple, but do not overpower their lead. The song builds as it progresses, too, lending something joyous to the melancholy tone that it starts out with before falling back to just vocals and a guitar when needed. After a couple of songs that, although good, blend into one another a little, Hey Mama stands out as one of the band’s greatest tracks not only on the album, but of their discography in general.
Two songs later, Intro jolts you out of this tone with its borderline creepy, well, intro. This track is fast and fun and riffs just as easily as the seminal S.O.B did. It also has a saxophone solo in it, guaranteed to make any music at least eight times better, which elevates this to what is by far my favourite part of the album. When the Night Sweats are at their best, they are making you dance. Intro achieves this without breaking a sweat, this is good, because if I’ve learned anything from seeing them live you’ll be exhausted by moving about to the beat by the end of it anyway. As Tearing at the Seams approaches its close it continues with a mix of fast and slow songs with the band’s distinctive style and Rateliff’s unmistakable vocals carrying what might be otherwise forgettable tracks to the end of the album.
I hinted at it above, but what Rateliff and the Night Sweats achieve with their music is old-school, acoustic blues rock that revives a dying genre without ever sounding jaded and dated. Listening to them sounds like you’re listening to ‘60s rock’n’roll not on Spotify, but on someone else’s record player two weeks after it came out. If music was colour, this band would be sepia. They echo the liminal lifestyle of the working class of America’s south in the latter half of the twentieth century: a lifestyle that birthed the beats, Bukowski, and many more that channelled the same mix of mournfulness and joy that the Night Sweats do. Tearing at the Seams encapsulates their style while showing how, through its lack of rigidity, the group have become comfortable in it. At its weakest moments the album is merely good folk rock; at its strongest, it is genre-defining.