Review: Nathaniel Mayer - Why Don't You Give It to Me?
Label: Alive Naturalsound Records
Released: August 21, 2007
Nathaniel Mayer is a legend in soul music, though lesser known outside of the genre. Once known for his sweet soulful voice, there is little of that remaining on his latest effort, released 45 years after his most famous song, "Village of Love." His now thin, raspy voice may not be what older fans recall, but the raw Detroit soul recorded here should still take them back to the days when the town's soul was so heavy that it influenced the burgeoning garage rock scene as much as it did the slicker Motown sound. In a sense, this record has as much to do with Mayer's influence on the MC5 as it does with his influence on R&B and soul.
Why Don't You Give It to Me? starts off with the title track, a straight blues number, and Mayer's vocals are shocking to the point that it seems like a novelty. His voice is thin and gravely and fails to convey much. However, the ride changes its character as Mayer's voice both improves and grows on you over the remaining eight tracks. Most of these take on a dark garage approach to soul msuic with loose, emotive rhythms and bluesy, psychedelic guitar. Mayer's band is filled out with some exceptional musicians, most notably Dan Auerbach of garage rock purists, the Black Keys. It is Auerbach's playing as much as Mayer's voice that brings the most out of these songs and it's no surprise that seven of the songs are group compositions. The closer is a cover of Delroy Wilson's reggae classic, "Dancing Mood." It may seem an odd choice until you hear Mayer and company nail it as a reggae-tinged garage soul number. If nothing else, it solidifies the idea that the initial misgivings with the opener are misplaced.
The production on Why Don't You Give It to Me? is poor to say the least...and it would be a crucial mistake to have it any other way. The album finds its way in walking that fine line between chaos and lifelessness, avoiding both and coming up with an album of tremendous energy. Mayer's voice may never quite resonate with all listeners, but taking some time to appreciate it as it is and to dig into the music that backs it will prove to be a worthwhile effort.