published: 26 /
Slow-burning, but memorable latest album from world weary Missouri-based singer-songwriter, Nathaniel Rateliff
This album doesn't sound much like a debut. Nathaniel Rateliff's weary voice makes him sound like he's been around the block, been from Memphis to Mobile and back, and been at the whisky. It's sparse, often with only guitars, vocals and the occasional drums appearing for long stretches.
It's hard to pigeon-hole Rateliff - no bad thing, really - because his music defies categorisation. Nobody's going to mistake it for drum and bass, admittedly, but there are shades of country, echoes of rock, slivers of folk and snippets of pop in there. The opening track 'Once in a Great While' is a slow burner, with a couple of picked guitar strings and the tickled tinkling of piano keys in the background before the vocals, hushed, shy and nervous, make their way across your ears. His voice is reedy but insistent and it inveigles its way into your mind before you've noticed what it's doing.
On the second number, 'Early Spring Till', begins even more slowly and sparsely, with the guitar pushed right into the background and the solo vocal leading the way. Halfway through, the vocal suddenly morphs into the Kings of Leon, complete with the same double-tracked harmonies. The rhythm remains slow, and the instruments never make a break into anything more forceful, which makes for a strange and compelling mixture.
Rateliff isn't just a man with an interesting voice and an ear for instrumentation. He also has an ear for a tune: while it's never particularly catchy the album is full of memorable moments and hooks that work their way into your brain so you're still singing them days later. 'Brakeman' is a case in point - a song that feels instantly familiar but at the same time has a certain difference about it.
That voice has echoes of a country and western twang about it - sometimes you can hear Willie Nelson in there, sometimes Jim Reeves, sometimes Johnny Cash. There is even a strange impression of a drunken, melancholy Jack Johnson on 'Oil & Lavender'.
Towards the back of the album things do get quicker and pick up a bit of pace, especially on 'Whimper & Wail' and 'A Lamb on the Stone', as close as the album gets to a straight pop-rock tune, which belies its barbed lyrics ("I'm just another lamb on the stone/Grill the meat right to the bone/And feast on it").
Closer 'Happy Just to Be' is a departure, being largely piano-led and so having a different timbre to the rest of the album (there are strains of the Beatles, and even a Ringo Starr drum fill before the choruses). It fades out gently and is a down-beat, low-key way to end the album, but it's not a disappointment.
'In Memory of Loss' is a remarkable debut album - it has the weary heart of something made by a man 20 or 30 years older than Nathaniel Rateliff, and is worthy of its place against albums that were.
Once In A Great While
Early Spring Till
We Never Win
Longing And Losing
Oil & Lavender
You Should've Seen The Other Guy
Whimper And Wail
Boil & Fight
When We Could
A Lamb On The Stone
When You're Here
Happy Just To Be
Pounds And Pounds
You Make All The Noise