Nathaniel Mayer passed away last Saturday, from complications due to a stroke suffered back on April 13.
The Detroit soul singer was a powerful voice on the scene during the years the Motor City’s soul evolved into what eventually became the Motown sound of the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. Mayer, however, recorded for the less well-known Fortune Records, a regionally popular label back in the day whose seminal recordings still haven’t made it to CDâ€”one of the factors relegating Mayer to obscurity until the good folks of Fat Possum records rediscovered him in 2004 and recorded his comeback CD I Just Want to be Held, followed up by Why Don’t You Give it to Me? last year on Alive.
The tenor crooner’s pleading, melancholy voice had a raspy quality in the Otis Redding vein, as opposed to the smooth Sam Cooke styleâ€”perfectly suited to the gritty grease and metal shavings paving the highways and byways of greater Detroit. Perfectly suited to the Fat Possum primitive sound that propelled old-skool players like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough into the limelight in the 1990s and their newer disciples like the Black Keys and Black Diamond Heavies.
Mayer, however added some urban sophistication to the mix. Still, his recent recordings like “I’m A Lonely Man” from Why Don’t You Give it to Me? sound like a throwback to 1961, perhaps played back on a crummy portable LP player with a bent needle. Great stuff, a tonic for overprocessed, fake digital soul that pollutes the FM dial today. We’ll miss you, Nathaniel, and hope you’re smiling down upon your country that did the right thing on election day.