Nathaniel Rateliff – [Album]

Friday, 30 April 2010

The day that Nathan Rateliff's In Memory Of Loss showed up on my doorstep, it was with several other packages of albums. It looked innocuous enough, so I didn't pay if much attention; I had other things to do, so it sat for a brief period in my stacks, untouched. One night after I'd already gone through a number of other titles, I took a minute, stopped and relaxed. I didn't intend to review any more CDs that night.

Then it happened; somehow this record caught my eye so I threw it on and listened for a minute. I thought about a few other records that I knew I had to work through and considered throwing one of them on in place of In Memory Of Loss, but as the warm, spare and strains of “Once In A Great While” wrapped around me, there wasn't a single thing in the world pressing enough to compel me to turn it off – there was something in Rateliff's sad and soulful voice held my attention above anything else.

So I listened, then I picked up a pen and started writing.

Here's what I heard.

It's a good bet that, if you asked Nathaniel Rateliff, he'd say there's nothing particularly special about In Memory Of Loss. He'd probably modestly say the album is just a collection of memories – but that would be untrue. There is most definitely more to it than that.

“Once In A Great While” is actually the ideal opening track for an album that relives some of Nathaniel Rateliff's saddest memories. It's the song of song that can (and does, in this case) preface a set of tender thoughts of times regretfully long gone. The song literally seems to say, “Once in a great while I think of you and remember how things were” as, with only spare acoustic guitars and light piano pattering, the singer very carefully touches on the tip of his emotional iceberg; trying to screw up the courage to address his losses and good but heart-aching memories of the sort that simply aren't brought out for air every day, but Rateliff trusts his audiences enough to look at them. As the guitars and the piano in the song seem to relax the singer's misgivings and reservations, he opens up as the song progresses until, in the end when Rateliff calls out into the darkness about “the stars in your eyes,” he's right there and ready to open up. It's a methodical progression, but a necessary one both for the singer and audience.

Now with the singer's mind set and the audience convinced (yes, it only took one track), Rateliff starts digging into his own past and a selection of the memories he has from it. The same delicate and tentative instrumentation carries along through much of the album (“You Should've Seen The Other Guy,” Whimper and Wail” and “A Lamb on The Stone” are the exceptions that flesh out the arrangements further) and imply that, as brave as the singer is being by getting these songs and thoughts out, it isn't always easy. Rateliff overcomes in each case though, and weaves a careul rumination of life and its losses that's captivating in its candor and beautiful in its articulated tenderness. Songs including “Early Spring Till,” “Longing And Losing” (where Rateliff begs his listeners to “soak up the healing”), “When You're Here” and “We Never Win” all take that tenderness and wrap it like a thin but warm blanket around both himself and listeners and never lets that mood slip. Time fades away as the record progresses and the warmth endures, so much so that as the final resignation of “Happy Just To Be” fades out and listeners realize there is no more, they'll be reaching quickly to play it again; there is no desire to leave, even at last call here.

Needless to say, there are in fact several special things about In Memory Of Loss and Nathaniel Rateliff has indeed created something that will hold listeners for far longer than most records of its type. Those listeners that find it and play it through will be curious to know what the singer might have in store next; In Memory Of Loss is a relentlessly personal record, and listeners will be left wondering and hoping if this is the sort of album that he can make twice.



In Memory Of Loss
comes out on May 4, 2010 through Rounder Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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