There’s a ghost that haunts Nathaniel Rateliff’s “And It’s Still Alright,” the Denver-based singer-songwriter’s first solo album since breaking out with his Stax-style soul revival band the Night Sweats.
Rateliff, who spent much of his first decade in music making stripped-down and somber acoustic songs, had wanted to return to that format with a batch of tracks he’d written while making the Night Sweats’ second album, 2018’s “Tearing at the Seams,” that didn’t fit the big band’s high-energy style.
He shared a few with producer Richard Swift, who helmed both Night Sweats records and was feeling inspired by the kind of warm and hazy records Swift had made with singer-songwriter Damien Jurado. “We were going to make a record,” Rateliff says, “that was totally different than the Night Sweats.”
On July, 3 2018, Swift unexpectedly died of complications from hepatitis.
“Richard passing away changed what I was writing about,” says Rateliff, 41. “Losing him is something that really sticks with me and is something I think about every day. When you lose somebody too early, you always feel like there’s something else you could have done.”
Like Rateliff, Swift struggled with substance abuse, particularly when it came to drinking. His death colors much of “And It’s Still Alright,” both explicitly and implicitly.
“There’s songs like ‘Rush On’ where the dialogue is speaking to him or about him,” Rateliff says. “I recognize the suffering that he had and that I sometimes share the same thing. I think that was the thing that made us very close but was also the dangerous part of our relationship.”
Swift’s family has kept his National Freedom studio in Oregon open, and Rateliff knew he had to track the album there.
“It was very heavy,” Rateliff recalls of the eight days he spent recording there. “We were in Richard’s space. I feel like the spirit of him is still in that room.”
Without Swift, the album took on a slightly more expansive but still somber sound — members of the Night Sweats and a string quartet contributed throughout — and he’s touring with 10 people onstage every night, more than the Night Sweats.
“Some of it’s a little downcast, but I always feel like there’s an element of hope in there or I want there to be,” he says. “I’m really hoping I make a record that’s really happy — I just have to get there personally.”