WHY CAN'T YOU LET ME BE BLACK? - Nathaniel Mayer (Alive)
Fear not. That's not the sound of the bottom of the barrel being scraped.
We lost a good 'un when resurrected soul veteran Nathaniel Meyer shuffled off this mortal coil in 2008 and this is a fitting tribute, even if assembled from studio bits-and-pieces.

Half-a-dozen of these eight cuts are from the session that yielded "Why Don't You Give It To Me?" with the balance from a live-in-the-studio acoustic bracket taped for radio. The differing approaches meld seamlessly.

If you didn't hear the predecessor album "Why Don't You Give It To Me?" then you need to. It was an astounding comeback-from-God-knows-where that welded Mayer's scarred, knife-edge vocal to sometimes sparse and often confronting accompaniment from a crew of underground notables like Dave Shettler, mostly from Nat's Motor City. Black Key Dan Auerbach's guiding hand (and guitar) was on the tiller and Jim Diamond engineered.

"Dreams Come True" is a restrained opener and sweetly soulful in its own inimitable way. Mayer's voice is undeniably ravaged but he doesn't push it to the edge here. For that we only have to wait a song; "Mr Taxman" reverts to recent type - a seven-and-a-half-minute vamp wrapped in fried guitar and lyrical allusions to being down-and-out. Its sister track is the intently plodding "The Puddle", another intense burner. Brevity's at the soul of "She's Bad" but it, too, shares the same postcode.

Mayer's vocal is at its most pure on the acoustic "You Are The One", a mid-album oasis among all the brooding and dissonance. "The Girl Next Door" is ushered in by Tim Boatman's plaintive piano and harks back to "Why Dontcha?" form the previous al

Apart from a distorted bass solo in its closing bars, "If You Would Be My Guide" faintly echoes "Unchained Melody." No shame in that 'cept Nathaniel Meyer puts it out there more nakedly than the Righteous Brothers ever did.

If the acoustic "What Would You Do?" seems an oddly quiet way of closing, you can't but smile at Nat's mumbled reference to being happy in his own world on the end. Let's raise a glass to that. – The Barman

 

WHY DON'T YOU GIVE IT TO ME? - Nathaniel Mayer (Alive)
If you wanted proof of Dane Auerbach's (The Black Keys) worth as virtual A & R man for Alive Records you need look no further than this 'un.

Pulling together a red hot band from the likes of himself, SSM, The Sights, The Dirtbombs and Outrageous Cherry, Auerbach has provided a musical platform for Detroit '60s soul veteran Nathaniel Mayer to ply his ravaged vocals over nine, taught garage tunes. Auerbach didn't throw Meyer a lifeline - Fat Possum did that a few years earlier - but he maintained the momentum.

Let's stop the nonsense about this sounding like a damaged soul-man fronting the Stooges. That's a nice sentiment but pure lazy hyperbole. The Stooges have an entirely different thing happening. These guys apply a nimble but more minimal backing with psychedelic overtones. It's primal but much more sparse, and thankfully not a mention of her taking his money or ATMs. So let's not label anyone out of the Motor City (as the bulk of this band hails from there) as the new Stooges.

But Mayer does sound ravaged. And how. Never the sweetest soul singer but always a vital one with his roots in the garage, he strains but never fails to nail these songs with an intensity and desperation that matches the playing. I'm thinking the lusting after pretty girls in "Everywhere I Go" sounds less The World's Forgotten Boy than The Planet's Horniest Old Man (with absolutely no apologies to Hugh Hefner.) Explosions anywhere above the waist seem the least of Meyer's worries on "Please Don't Drop The Bomb" and the old retrobate's not asking for his lunch money and a pensioner's concession fare on the bus home on "Why Don't You Give It To Me?"

He might be an old bloke but he sure keeps his end up on an extended funk rumble like the nearly nine-minute long "Doin' It". Shadowy, dirty and dark, turn it loose and lose yourself. The real oddity here however is the closer, a syncopated skeletal bone-jangler called "Dancin' Mood" whose playful touch seems out of step with the rest of the skanky fare.

What a dirty old man. Just the sort of man the safety-first promoters need to bring out to Australia for the East Coast (aka "White Bread") Blues Festival. – The Barman

3/4



(I WANT) LOVE AND AFFECTION (NOT THE HOUSE OF CORRECTION) - Nathaniel Mayer (Vamp Soul through Fuse)

Soul music didn't begin with Motown and end with Human Nature - or whatever eratz bread, vacuous and insipid imitation rules the airwaves in your neck of the woods. There's a whole wide world of less well-known stuff on Motown that doesn't make the playlists of oldies radio that's alive as any music on earth, and while the Stax factory that used to churn out hit after hit in Memphis barely rates a mention outside the pages of Mojo magazine anymore, your life's empty if you haven't made that acquaintance. Then there's all the little soul labels that briefly (or never) broke out of their regional scenes, the output of which remains criminally under-appreciated.

Fortune is one of those labels: a long-gone Detroit record shop with a cinder block and dirt floor studio out back from where genius sprang. Many people familiar with Andre "Mr Rhythm" Williams (who also has a landmark compilation on Vamp Soul) won't know Fortune labelmate Nathaniel Mayer. This 23-song collection is a chance to correct that oversight.

"Savage Soul" reads the inscription on the cover and while that might be an over-statement there's no doubting Mayer (and Fortune) didn't trifle with the technical niceties that subsequent competitors hooked into so well. These guys set up a mic on a stand and let tape roll, with little if anything in the way of overdubs. What you hear is what they got. Which, on a track like Mayer's hit "Village of Love" is greatness. If you don't believe me, ask Detroit's king of blue-eyed soul Scott Morgan of The Rationals and Sonic's Rendezvous Band fame:

"Back in the '60s 'Village of Love' was one of the biggest things to come out of Detroit. We were in Ann Arbor but it was just the suburbs so we got all the new hot music out of Detroit. Believe me, there was so much soul in Detroit we were breathing it. To have that song stand out so strongly in my memory says a lot, considering the competition."

Mayer's voice is raw, soulful and powerful - all at the same time. The Funk Brothers may have rightfully earned R-E-S-P-E-C-T from anyone with half a musical ear, but the players on these tunes match - nay, outstrip them - for intensity. at times. Listen to guitarist Chuck Chittenden's chunky work on "Leave Me Alone" (his riff on Nolan Strong's "Mind Over Matter" reputedly inspried Keef's intro for "Start Me Up".)

"Leave Me Alone", the even bigger hit "Village of Love" and its sequel, "Return To The Village of Love", which was an obvious attempt to keep the cash coming, are worthy inclusions on any soul compilation but there are many more here. The title tune - Australia's Johnny Casino was smart/well-informed enough to borrow it for an album title - is another masterful mix of souful swing and cast iron grit. "I Want a Woman" has a sympathetic doo-wop accompaniment that you won't resist.

Me and the flute are normally not on talking terms (a hangover of enforced infants school recorder classes) but I can't bag "My Lonely Island". Of course I can turn up my nose at the closing two disco era cuts, but who's perfect?

Mayer dropped out of music from that point for 20 years, spending time in Detroit's notorious street gang the Earl Flynns (who were mentioned in Radio Birdman's "Hand of Law") and doing his (and no doubt someone else's) share of drink and drugs. He re-emerged this century with a well-received comeback album on Fat Possum and another raspier but inspiredly edgy work, "Why Don't You Give It To Me?", in the racks in 2007 through Alive Records. That one's well worth chasing down but don't do yourself the injustice of neglecting finding out where it all came from. Savagely sweet stuff. – The Barman






BACK TO THE REVIEWS PAGE

BACK TO THE BAR