Nathaniel Mayer | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Nathaniel Mayer

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Detroit soul singer Nathaniel Mayer hit the Top 40 at age 18 with his 1962 single "Village of Love," but his career languished soon after; Fortune Records, the would-be Motown that signed him, failed to capitalize on his early success, and he began a struggle with substance abuse. Aside from the occasional oldies show in his hometown, he abandoned the biz, but his performance at one such revue caught the fancy of ex-Detroit Cobras guitarist Jeff Meier, who's currently in the Shanks. Meier recruited Mayer to sing with that band; a Memphis performance convinced Matthew Johnson to sign Mayer to his label, Fat Possum Records, which has resurrected the careers of many a down-and-out bluesman during the past decade. Mayer's voice, a scratchy, froglike rasp a la Howlin' Wolf, is in tatters, but on his latest CD, I Just Want to Be Held, it's clear he still knows how to use it, and though the Shanks' backing is perfunctory, at least they don't lay on too much rock 'n' roll raunch. At times Mayer comes across as stylistically schizophrenic: he makes like Rufus Thomas on the stomping "I Wanna Dance With You," pleads like a young, dyspeptic James Brown on ballads like "You Are the One," and wails like Bobby "Blue" Bland with a case of laryngitis on "Satisfied Fool." But he pours every bit of himself into each song. The Dealbreakers and the Tax open. Fri 1/7, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $10.

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