Why Won't You Let Me Be Black?
If I was a bettin' man, I could make a wager that most lovers of R&B music haven't the slightest notion as to who Nathaniel Mayer is. A cult icon and legend in the garage and soul communities around his home in Detroit, Mayer's biggest break came in 1962 at the age of 18 with "Village of Love." With a gritty,gravel throated voice and a raucous stage presence, his name remained in the underground rock and soul scenes throughout the country, only occasionally releasing an album on small, obscure record labels. As he reached his sixties, Mayer began to make more music and tour more frequently, eventually signing a record deal with Alive Records, a perfect fit for his eclectic sound and appeal. Before his death in 2008, Mayer and many of the Alive alumni, including members of Outrageous Cherry, The Black Keys, and the Dirtbombs, booked two sessions that would indeed be has last. Alive released the first of these installments, Why Don't You Give it To Me?, in 2007 and now has given us the second.
Like the first session, Why Won't You Let Me Be Black? is not crisp, clean, or polished. This session captured exactly what Nathaniel Mayer was all about: the moment and the emotion. The production for Why Won't You Let Me Be Black? is extremely lo-fi with rough edges, giving this album a laid back, improvisational sound. The contributing musicians match the grit and sass that literally drenches every syllable that emits from Nathaniel Mayer's mouth, making this album a statement in raw emotion where what you hear is what you get. When his voice wains and stretches to finish a line or hit a certain note, it strikes a chord deep within and you know exactly what is on his mind and in his heart at that particular moment. Musically, things are sparse and never overpower Mayer's vocal delivery. The right touches are added in just the right places whether it be simplistic percussive rhythms or an almost out-of-tune upright piano, exhibiting the strength and quality of musicians on hand. On a more somber note, knowing that this will be the last we will hear from Nathaniel Mayer makes this album even more of an emotional blast than it already is. -Andrew Bryant