Scott Takes Nathaniel Mayer’s “Why Don’t You Give It To Me?” For a Spin

nathaniel-mayer.jpgNathaniel MayerWhy Don’t You Give It To Me?
Alive Natural Sound

When music fans talk about R&B music, a lot of times they emphasize how raw a certain artist or album sounds. While rawness is an important part of R&B, it is hardly a prerequisite. I mean, some of the best R&B (Motown and The Philadelphia International stables quickly come to mind) was as slick and urbane as any music can get. But ask a true R&B fan, and although they’ll give props to the Motown and Philly sounds, they’ll always have a special place in their hearts for the truly raw, the gutbucket stuff, the sweaty in-your-face butt-shaking, uber-sexual dance music. The James Browns, the Wilson Picketts, the Don Covays, the George Clintons, Otis Redding – all those people are held in very high esteem not only because they could be smooth when the situation called for but, most importantly, they could also be rough, carnal and gritty whenever they felt the need. And most felt the need a lot. Music is sex and soul music is the sexiest music of all.

Nathaniel Mayer was once one of the smoothest soul singers in the business. Never a household name, he was nonetheless a legend in his homebase of Detroit. At only 18 years of age he released his most enduring cut, “Village of Love”, for the tiny Detroit label Fortune Records. It features Mayer’s knowing croon soaring over searing garage-soul backing straight into the stratosphere. Even though Mayer would record a ton of singles that did well in Detroit and other segments of the US where soul music was strong (and also especially in Europe), Mayer didn’t record his first full album until a 2004 release on the Fat Possum label. By then, Mayer’s penchant for hard living had robbed him of most of his voice, but little else, as his stage show is, by all accounts, raucous and incredibly sexually-charged.

The loss of his voice has caused him to be re-imagined as a bluesman and his raunchy new material fits his new persona quite well. That said, fans of Mayer’s old doo-wop soul days are in for a surprise when listening to this new album. Gone is Mayer’s full-throated wail, replaced by a raspy voice tattered from years of hard living. But, as tattered as Mayer’s voice is, it doesn’t come close to the frayed sound displayed on this album. I mean, the production sounds chaotic and the album itself sounds as if the master was found in someone’s attic after having deteriorated for decades. Luckily for Mayer, it seems to work. The raggedness of the sound lends itself well to the scratchy, world-wearyness of his voice and seems like it was recorded at one hell of a fucking party. Mayer’s backing band is led by Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach and the assembled musicians are able to slide from the Delta blues of the leadoff track to the psychedelic mindfuck of the phenomenal “Doin’ It,” where Mayer brings out his funkiest performance to date. The entire album was co-written and co-produced with his band members, who rise to the occasion, and manage to infuse each song with a powerful energy, especially the sultry late-’60s British blues song “Please Don’t Drop the Bomb”. Mayer includes one scintillating cover, reggae titan Delroy Wilson ‘s “Dancing Mood” though Mayer saves his best performance for his one newly-written composition, “Why Don’t You Show Me”. The album manages to capture the excitement of the singer’s live performances and features a group of tracks that already sound like soul classics.

Those who love soul music are going to just love this record. Though Mayer’s voice no longer resembles the slick sounding instrument of his early work due to the excesses of Mayer’s life, his phrasing is still top notch and his voice has a natural lived-in quality only enhancing Mayer’s newer persona. Now Mayer has reached a position of elder statesmanship he is able to wear well considering what he has been able to overcome. Though no one would pick this as the greatest soul album ever, there is a lot to love hear and every soul fan needs to definitely check Mayer out as he is slowly building his career back into that of a player in the music business. Is a duet between Mayer and Sharon Jones far behind? I hope not.

Scott Homewood