At eighteen, Nathaniel Rateliff moved from his hometown of Bay, Missouri, population 60, to Denver. He focused first on finding work, but after a mysterious bout of health issues forced him to take a break from his job at a trucking company, he slid into the indie folk scene sideways, quickly becoming a local darling of Americana and indie folk. American music, as Rateliff knows, comes from a patchwork of styles, half accidentally thrown together, half borne of different kinds of musicians playing together. Rateliff’s path into music reflected some approximation of this same amalgamation. He’s played in a number of groups, including folky rock group Born In The Flood and his more recent soul project The Night Sweats, and he released an early, homemade batch of recordings as Nathaniel Rateliff and The Wheel. Monikers and fluctuations of style notwithstanding, though, Rateliff is recognizable in any project he lays hands on, and that’s all due to the reedy, pulse-happy rhythms of his singing.
On his second full-length solo album, Falling Faster Than You Can Run, Rateliff takes us further down the direction of interior, quietly catchy songwriting he established on his Rounder Records debut In Memory of Loss, which came out in 2010. The two albums also share a penchant for bleakness. The acoustic spaciousness of the tracks on Falling Faster highlight Rateliff’s voice, and that voice often sounds pretty sorrowful: sharp, emotional volume spikes on the choruses make each song into a miniature nervous breakdown, with plenty of room for wallowing in the acoustic guitar line. Many of the tracks were written on the road, when Rateliff was touring, and you get a real sense of nomadic loneliness listening to this collection. The lyrics are songwriter-intimate but bear far remove, as if the songs look down at their subjects from thirty thousand feet.
Falling Faster‘s best lyrical moments come when Rateliff reveals the cheekier side of his charm, as is the case on the comparatively bouncy and lighthearted “Laborman” (“I’m begging your pardon if I kinda like the way it feels,” Rateliff sings, and you can practically hear him smirking into the microphone.) Those moments of sunniness serve the album well, and a few more would have not only expanded Falling Faster‘s range, but placed well-deserved focus on the gorgeous flexibility of Rateliff’s voice.
Watch the official video for “Still Trying,” off forthcoming album Falling Faster Than You Can Run, below: