Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Nathaniel Mayer - Why Don't You Give It To Me?

Nathaniel Mayer
Why Don't You Give It To Me?


AOTM #96, May 2008ce
Released 2007 on Alive Records
Side One
  1. Why Don’t You Give it to Me? (5.07)
  2. White Dress (3.30)
  3. I’m a Lonely Man (4.39)
  4. Please Don’t Drop the Bomb (2.39)
  5. Everywhere (3.38)
Side Two
  1. What Would You Do? (3.28)
  2. Doin’ It (8.51)
  3. Why Dontcha Show Me (7.01)


This is not a parody

This Album of the Month is nothing less than an heroic act, being both an extraordinary art statement of cavernous Detroit Psychedelic soul AND a major mission of Cultural Retrieval. For, with the help of four contemporary musicians at least 25 years younger than himself, veteran Detroit R&B star Nathaniel Mayer has with this single LP lifted himself out of the worthy but Old Timer Chicken-in-a-Basket Soul Revue scene, and been delivered into the welcoming hands of the drooling and mightily entranced Underground. And believe me, kiddies, retrieving the voice of Nathaniel Mayer for our own delectation makes the musicians in question into true culture heroes; so let’s scream out major hails to the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, SSM’s Dave Shettler, the Dirtbombs’ Troy Gregory, and (most especially) to mainman and prime mover Matthew Smith. For, despite claims to the contrary, even Mayer’s recent 2004 LP I JUST WANNA BE HELD still suffered from boring, nay, dutiful sax, boring ‘authentic’ guitar tones and songs written in the Retro/Retread soul vein. Well, not anymore! Now, it’s welcome to weeping dual fuzz guitars, proto-punk garage rhythms, nuclear burn-ups of free-rock De Twat, and all topped off with a changeling R&B guy whose vocal range takes in everything from Screaming Jay Hawkins to Dionne Warwick, via George Clinton, early I-Tina, Ray Charles and James Brown by way of the Monks. WHY DON’T YOU GIVE IT TO ME? is an instant party and an instant classic, an immensely stoned groove and an exhilarating and swampy hybrid of the early call-&-answer heavy soul of Funkadelic (first 3LPs), the cacophonous Glam Soul of John & Yoko’s SOMETIME IN NEW YORK CITY, the fuzzy earnestness of early early early Bob Seger (‘Heavy Music’-period), the abandoned lyrical Free Association of Kim Fowley’s berserk Psychedelic Psoul Revue on OUTRAGEOUS, plus the murky voodoo gunk of Night Tripper-period Dr. John. Yes, from its very first sub-sub-Chocolate Watchband/very early Stones opening bars, this new Nathaniel Mayer record screams: “Here I AM!” Better still, after his aforementioned stilted 2004 album I JUST WANNA BE HELD1, it’s enthralling to hear this veteran 64-year-old Detroit R&B singer finally united with a truly sympathetic backing band chock full o’garageheads who been raised on such errant fuzzarama garage compilations as PEBBLES 1-12, BACK FROM THE GRAVE 1,2&3, HIPSVILLE 29BC, OFF THE WALL, TURDS ON A BUM RIDE and their glorious ilk, suddenly lending Nathaniel the kind of guitar-heavy demented amphetamine yawp that forces his own performance sky high. The results are no less than immediate and spectacular. Indeed, from the moment Nathaniel Mayer nobbled me with the title track’s lyrical opening gambit – ‘You gave it to him, why don’t you give it to me?’ – well, I knew this artist would have Album of the Month just so long as he didn’t fuck up the remaining thirty-six minutes TOO much. Ja, mein hairies, this 6-month-old vinyl slab is truly one motherfucker of an album.

Side One of WHY DONCHA GIVE IT TO ME? commences with the title track, whose enormous Bats In The Belfry belltone guitar riffing and cranky leaden drums immediately sets the listener on edge, before our hero steps into the spotlight and immediately crouches down on one knee to confess his pain to his coy mistress, the half-written lyrical abandon of Nathaniel’s song-writing (spawning such couplets as “You made him a happy man all across the land”) reinforcing our suspicions that this record’s producers knew they had limited studio time in which to make this record, before the whole shithouse exploded in their faces. Next up is the Electric Manchakou-style teenage exuberance of ‘White Dress’, another work-in-progress being sketched out before our very eyes, like some wide-eyed and ageless shaman/woman cooing and billing in wonder at the opposite sex over three minutes of ‘Shake Appeal’-period Stooges replete with handclaps and endless questions. This is followed by ‘I’m a Lonely Man’, four minutes of the most shameless (and tuneless) BACK FROM THE GRAVE-stylee garage voodoo, as Nate vamps and grunts the song’s title over & over. Next up, the chorale-and-heavy-riffology of ‘Please Don’t Drop the Bomb’ is pure early Funkadelic ambient ice-rink funk, whilst Side One closes with the three-and-a-half minutes of ‘Everywhere’, which – with its boys-being-chicks backing vocals and wide-eyed asides, sounds like a wonderful hybrid of John Sinclair’s super-exuberant late acolytes the Up playing a song by Leslie West’s soul garage outfit the Vagrants. Side Two opens with the ‘Knock On Wood-styled ‘What Would You Do?’, another lost classic riff, followed by the weird West Coast 9-minute free rock of ‘Doin’ It’, whose cheese-grater wa-guitars, bubbling bass, clatter-chatter drums and belltone blues lead axe all conspire to create a wild, almost proto-Comets on Fire rush that sounds like it coulda come off any of the best Detroit rock LPs anytime in the past 40 years. No wonder this record has been filed under ‘Rock’ on iTunes. Indeed, only on the 7-minute closer ‘Why Dontcha Show Me?’ does Nate return to his sultry soul roots. Commencing with a Ray Charles-styled piano-only opening coupla verses, this exquisitely crafted and sexy song suddenly metamorphoses into a percussion-heavy bossanova somewhere between Tim Buckley’s ‘Sweet Surrender’ and Timmy Thomas’s ‘Why Can’t We Live Together?’. This record is one mind-manifesting rock behemoth, but the confidence of this final statement lifts the entire LP up even another coupla notches.

In Conclusion

And so there we have it for another month. With regard to where Nathaniel Mayer takes him next step, well, we probably shouldn’t set our hopes up too high considering Mayer’s first hit ‘Village of Love’ was way back in 1962, thereafter ambling and shambling through long periods of bandlessness, giglessness, even homelessness. However, even a perfunctory trawl through Nate’s current youtube performances suggests that this sexagenerian singer is once more enjoying himself enough to attempt to sustain what he’s currently achieving. And, on the huge evidence of this wonderful Album of the Month, we can only cross our fingers and selfishly hope that he barfs out a few more in this present stylee, before the (inevitable?) next crash. For the time being, however, we need only take a cursory glance at rock’n’roll history to feel a sense of optimism. For example, we only gotta look at Alex Harvey to see the renewal that an Old Timer could achieve just through taking on a much younger backing band. Later, at the inception of punk, mother-of-two Vi Subversa split up her cabaret duo and lead her own outfit the Poison Girls, all twenty-odd-years younger than her, and became the co-leader of the new punk alongside Crass. Unfortunately, we just have to hope that Nathaniel’s current ensemble can find time in their busy careers to stay around and keep him buoyant. What has made WHY DON’T YOU GIVE IT TO ME? so successful is the abandoned-yet-still-dignified character that Nathaniel brings to the party, so on the case that none of the producers has felt tempted to cast him as a mere eccentric outsider, a path trod by so many lesser talented or less honourably-minded mentors. Which is why this particular Album of the Month is so fucking refreshing, because – instead of recruiting as lead singer for their new project the local gangliest youth with the biggest garage rock LP collection in his basement, instead, several enlightened and currently successful rockers have come together to back a forgotten 64-year-old R&B singer, a man of undoubted song-writing talent and possessed of a genuinely extraordinary set of vocal chords, but whose luck has been intermittent to say the least. That three successful contemporary rock’n’rollers should have sought out and championed such a lost hero is heroic in itself, and Dan Auerbach, Troy and – most especially – Matthew Smith should be praised to the skies. That the chosen artist should rise to the occasion in such a manner is even more thrilling, which is why I say to Nathaniel Mayer:

“Bravo, Lord Motherfucker, and deep gratitude for laying this Righteous Thang upon us.”

Amen.




FOOTNOTES:
  1. Released on Fat Possum Records in 2004, I JUST WANNA BE HELD was a brave-but-failed attempt to capture Nathaniel’s live sound on record. Unfortunately, the band was too straight and ‘authentic’ to have any real resonance with today, and the album is something of a one trick pony; only Nathaniel’s brutal version of John Lennon’s ‘I Found Out’ somewhat anticipating the sound of this current record, and making me think he’d do an even better job on Lennon’s other soul masterpiece of that period ‘Well Well Well’. However, those wishing to check out I JUST WANNA BE HELD will probably enjoy the James Brown-sy ‘You Gotta Work’ and the strange album closer ‘What’s Your Name’, which contains a futuristic funk that comes across like early Talking Heads playing the Berlin soul of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Shattered’.