Nathaniel Mayer – I Just Want to Be Held – Review

Nathaniel Mayer

I Just Want to Be Held (Fat Possum)
by Brian Varney

The release of I Just Want to Be Held is cause for rejoicing among soul geeks. Nathaniel Mayer had a fairly sizable hit back in 1962 with “Village of Love,” recorded for the small but legendary (among the aforementioned geeks, anyway) Detroit soul label Fortune, which also released early singles by Andre Williams, who’s made a similar comeback in recent years. All told, Mayer’s legacy includes a handful of singles, 20-something tracks, recorded for a tiny label four decades ago. Until now, of course.

I’ve been burned lots of times for paying high prices for import copies of rare albums from the ’60s and ’70s, only to realize, upon listening, why nobody bought them in the first place. As a result, I’m leery of rare titles that claim to be “lost classics.” Let me assure you that Mayer’s ’60s recordings are an exception to this axiom. You don’t have to be a fanatic or a geek to appreciate the raw beauty of Mayer’s Fortune recordings, and you don’t have to be one to love this album, either.

I Just Want to Be Held lurches to life a bit unevenly, the jittery black rock and roll of opener “I Wanna Dance With You” sputtering into a cover of John Lennon’s “I Found Out” which strips the already raw original to its barest essence, just a shuffling beat, a pissed-off guitar, and Mayer’s voice spitting out a load of poison. I like both songs, but they seem a strange way to start the album, especially when you hit “Satisfied Fool,” a classic in the making that sounds like it could’ve appeared on any number of mid-’60s Stax/Volt LPs, even though the playing bears the unavoidable stamp of the ensuing decades. It’s this track where I Just Want to Be Held seems to finally gain a foothold, the rest of the album more or less following its lead. Mayer even reprises a couple of his Fortune sides, and though his voice is unquestionably lower and raspier these days, these new recordings can stand unashamed alongside the original versions. The new songs, whether ballads like “I’m in Love” and “You Are the One” or jumpers like “You Gotta Work” and “What’s Your Name,” are unarguably the work of a master. Common sense told me to prepare for disappointment – how often are comeback albums worth a shit, after all? – but I Just Want to Be Held, like Mayer’s Fortune recordings, is the exception rather than the rule.