Debut album from Denver trucker turned singer-songwriter.
Paul Lester 2011-08-24
If you appreciate Lambchop’s mellow mordancy, you’ll like Nathaniel Rateliff, the 31-year-old from Bay, Missouri (population: 60) who has been living in Colorado since he was 19. Judging by the contents of his debut album, he’s hardly been whooping it up there: In Memory of Loss is a feast of wry introspection, the titles – Longing and Losing, Whimper and Wail, We Never Win – speaking volumes about the mood of droll self-regard.
Recorded in a Chicago studio with producer Brian Deck (Califone, Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse), it’s not all downbeat contemplation. But it says a lot about Rateliff’s worldview that he should place the perkiest number, You Make All the Noise, which is an almost ELO-ishly infectious ditty, complete with Mr Blue Sky rhythm and handclaps, as the penultimate track. Or maybe he’s just got a good sense of humour. Certainly you have to wait until halfway through the album, and a song called Shroud, before you get anything remotely resembling a pop-rock tune, surrounded as it is by song after song of plangent acoustica, sparsely arranged, the lugubrious atmosphere enhanced by piano and cello.
It all seems so mournful and woebegone, one starts to suspect that In Memory of Loss is a darkly comic concept album about the futility of existence. Opener Once in a Great While sets the tone with Rateliff’s almost crooning vocals, smudges of strings and sprinkles of piano. On Early Spring Till he harmonises with himself like a one-man Everly Brothers. Mostly, Rateliff conjures up an image of himself that can only be described as hangdog. Despite the presence of numerous musicians on, variously, bass, drums, violin and guitar, more than anything there is a sense of absence, of lack, of a man alone with his thoughts, ruminating on the hopelessness of it all. There's a spaciousness to the sound, and some eerie silences that make the music veer towards dub country, and suddenly it becomes tempting to draw parallels between the production and the desolate town of 60 where Rateliff, the son of devout churchgoers, grew up. Whatever, isolation clearly becomes him.