Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lost Directions To The Village of Love

Guitar riffs rise like Louisiana swamp gasses, like a distant toxic warning. A voice cackles with more than a few cracks, calling from a far forgotten past. The drums dance to a voodoo beat, hypnotizing. Somehow you feel like an alcohol infused delirium has taken over from you, cold sweat sticks the shirt to your back. A bubbling base disorganizes your thoughts, the blues rip through your Soul, your mind feels barely alive. Pretty soon you need a whitch doctor's cure. Nathaniel Mayer has a new album out, ready to come over you like a hang over from a three night booze spree. "Why Don't You Give It To Me" clings to you like a bad fever. Mayer pulls you in like cheap sex on an alcohol hazed night.

In 2004 Nathaniel Mayer was the unlikely choice to follow up Solomon Burke's departure at the Fat Possum label. Solomon had brought Fat Possum their biggest selling album and Burke a full fledged comeback. Of course Solomon's mighty yet silky pipes were an all different bag than Mayer's ramblings. "I Just Want To Be Held" didn't sit quite as easy as Solomon's "Don't Give Up On Me". “I want to get one more hit. Just let me get one more hit,” Mayer said in a 2003 interview for the Detroit Metrotimes, with his hands poised for prayer and his eyes directed toward the heavens. “Go out with a bang, man … Moving, grooving. That’s the way I want to go out.” Maybe that's what prompted Nathaniel to get to work with some of Garage Rock's finest. Nathaniel must realize that his current material will never have the same impact as his '62 hit "Village of Love". Yet there's a fire burning in Nathaniel, threatening to consume him if he doesn't put it down on wax.

Like his former Fortune Records label mate Andre Williams, Nathaniel has an unlikely pull on the current Garage scene. Aside from the Doo Wop hit "Village of Love", recorded at the age of 15, and R&R nugget "I Want Love and Affection (not the house of correction)", Mayer hardly made a dent on the charts. Detroit native should have disappeared in the limbo of one hit wonders, shoved there by Detroit's giant Motown. Nathaniel simply didn't fit in to the factory of hits. It wasn't until Fat Possum's owner Matthew Johnson went looking for new talent to sign on his label, with a lot of his money makers, like R.L Burnside and T Model Ford, dying from old age, that Nathaniel got the chance to record his first ever album, "I Just Want To Be Held". Allegedly Mayer was signed in exchange for a 20 dollar blow job. On his first album Mayer was backed by the Fabulous Shanks, a Garage band to come out of cult act the Detroit Cobra's. The latter had paid Mayer tribute by covering that long forgotten Fortune 45rpm, "Village of Love". "I Just Want To Be Held" gained enough attention for Mayer's old 45s to be collected again. Most notably on a recent anthology on Vampisoul Records.

At Fat Possum Mayer met Black Lips' guitarist Dan Auerbach, who formed a Garage super group around him to record "Why Don't Your Give It To Me". The band Auerbach put together consist of Bass player Troy Gregory (The Dirtbombs), drummer Dave Shettler (SSM/The Sights) and gitarist Matthew Smith (Outrageous Cherry). While none of these artists will ring any bells outside of the scene, within it these gentlemen make up for an impressive roster. Together with Mayer's sand papery toothless voice, layered by the hard knocks of live, they deliver an album scares the living hell out of you. Yet you can't help but being sucked in. On the album the R&B format is left alone for more stretched out Blues jams. "Help me somebody" Mayer sputters on the title track, as he threatens to sink in the swampy sound scape of this album. Mayer sounds more like a deranged Iggy Pop than his former hero Jackie Wilson. Soul claps are on the base of "White Dress" but the sweet Doo Wop harmonies are missing. There's no young love on this album, Nathaniel replaced it with sordid one night stands at his old age, trying to drown out the disappointments of live in sweaty sex. The slow dragging Bo Diddley beats and geriatric Funk on "I'm a Lonely Man" blend into the retirment Reggae on "Dancing Mood". But make no mistakes, Nathaniel still has a lot of fight in him. "Living in the twilight" zone he sings like a man who should have been cut down by the hard life long ago, yet refuses to blow out that last breath. Mayer keeps "Doin' It" struggling to hold on, taking in life's dirty pleasures. Mayer may be from Detoit, but this album is nowhere close to Motown.

Nathaniel Mayer is looking to score that one more elusive hit. Great, in a vile way, as this album may be, it is highly doubtful that Nathaniel finds what he is looking for. I saw Nathaniel perform last night. It was in one of those R&R dens without comfort, surprisingly filled up to it's 100 capacity. Those who came saw a force driven by the Devil clinging to his alcoholic delusions. Maybe in his mind Mayer found himself back on the chitlin' circuit, as young and vital as ever, riding high on his latest hot 45. Maybe in his mind the ramshackle punks backing him were the tightest band he ever played with. Maybe in his mind. Those who came got a raving Garage Rock performance, with Nathaniel howling in the microphone. Nathaniel was shaking it down like a twenty year old man turned seventy over night, his voice rasping, barely recognizable as Soul. This was a whole other force all together. Nathaniel preached with a hoarse throat. But this wasn't no nice gospel dream he was preaching, this wasn't a promise that we will overcome, this was no bright new direction, Mayer was preaching the hard knocks of life. His message was simple You gotta work if you wanna get paid, work if you wanna get laid". Nathaniel was imploring us to roll with the punches, reminding us that cheap thrills is the best most of us will get. After a few beers his promise doesn't sound half bad at all. Getting laid was still the main objective in life. During one of his noisy but funky work outs one of the girls got up on stage, bumping and grinding. "I may be old, but I got some Viagra out back, I'll take to whole bottle if I have to" he hollered staring at the young girl's thighs with a lust a man 40 years younger would have difficulty finding in himself.

Just minutes before the show it didn't look like we could be suspecting such a raving show albeit rambling show. Nathaniel came dragging across the dance floor sporting his cane, looking somewhat abscent minded he was trying to make his way to the bar dangling a bottle of beer in his hand. I figured I'd grab my chance to ask him a few questions and headed over to him with his new album to sign. As soon as I asked him how he felt about being here, a big grin appeared on his face. "I love it man" he said "music is my first love, being back on stage is better than getting pussy", grin widening, watery eyes starting to sparkle. His recent album is very different from the work he used to do at Fortune, but Nathaniel couldn't care less. "Is different, but I'm different see", rasping his voice, words wihstling out of the back of his throat, "I ain't gonna jump and holla like I used to, got this cane see, I'm a cripple". Nathaniel at that point cackled somewhere between a laugh and a cough. He knows his prime days are over, he's just enjoying the ride as best as he can. But "who knows, I might score that hit yet" he claims sporting an optimistic smile, "The damn record is called "Why Don't You Give it To Me", see? They gave it to them other cats, why not give one to me?" Scoring that hit or not, Nathaniel is still loving life on the road, "I'll do this till I drop dead!!!"

"I Want Love and Affection (not the house of correction)"

"White Dress"
"Village of Love (Detroit Cobras)"

Catch Nathaniel Mayer on tour through out Europe!

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