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Nathaniel Rateliff
In Memory Of Loss
Rounder Records
www.nathanielrateliff.com


Chances are good that you have not heard of Nathaniel Rateliff. Chances are really good that you had never heard of this band before they changed their name from The Wheel, for whatever reason, to just the lead singer's own moniker. Chances are good that you have no idea the amount of musical greatness you are missing by not being aware of this little band from Denver, Colorado. But if you are lucky enough to be tuned into the new alternative folk movement, you might get a chance to see or hear Nathaniel Rateliff… and then your life might just be changed.

Putting all past musical projects aside, Nathaniel has collected a batch of songs with a dynamic sense and an extremely personal bent that beg to be heard over and over again. The album begins with the relaxed strains of "Once In A Great While" which is the calm before the forceful storm of the epic "Early Spring Till", a track that sums up, nicely, what this album is really about; songs that can go from a tiny acoustic voice to the largest, most soaringly beautiful folk song that one could imagine. The song has all the trappings of an old Simon And Garfunkel song in many ways, with bits of sonic filigree and slight vocal harmony thrown in under the acoustic guitar that carries each of these songs on its way, until the song breaks into an epic chorus as Nathaniel pleads, "Are you tired, do you feel wrung out? Have you fallen from where glory sprouts? Are you cut off in fields and pressed down, like an early spring till, that don't come 'round… I think I've been there." This song has so much simple, intrinsic power that it sets the stage for the remainder of the tracks that seek to establish Rateliff's legacy. "Brakeman" calls down harmonies as beautiful and full as any that have ever been recorded, carrying the stark, melancholy drumming and piano on their way as the song tells a dark story of haunting and longing. Songs like "Oil & Lavender" are low and mellow, relying almost entirely upon the voice and acoustic guitar of Rateliff himself, showcasing his ability to craft amazing songs more than any of his previous outings have done. For example, "You Should Have Seen The Other Guy" is the kind of song that some songwriters work their entire lives to write. It's an amazing song with a soul that could only be breathed by singing loosely about old family stories, but with a grace and penchant for imagery that crowns the achievement of this fine recording. When Rateliff's plaintive wailing voice cries out for release in the chorus, there is, again, that pure power of spirit that make sthis such a startling and compelling album.

"Boil & Fight" has a brighter tone, but retains the album's keen sense of literary excellence, mixing in alternating rhythms and bells that create a chiming pathway upon which to stroll. The album dips deeply into the Americana well for songs like "When We Could", songs that have such simple and brilliant melodies carried along the lightly plucked nylon strings of Rateliff's trademark guitar as his voice soars in and out of the clear sky. The album isn't all slow, melancholy… "A Lamb On The Stone" carries a quicker tempo and a lighter air that is celebratory in feeling and finally allows the band to really throw down and show what they're capable of playing. The beat is heavy and solid as Rateliff's voice is soaring and majestic, with less of a high, lonesome cast and more of an earthy beauty.

While Nathaniel Rateliff is not a new voice on the local Denver scene, his major label debut In Memory Of Loss will hopefully help to transport his name far and wide as one of the most exemplary of the up and coming new troubadours. The band is tight and has been making a name for themselves with their live shows, both here and abroad, and the performances have been stunning. But the real meat of this record, and Nathaniel himself, lies in his ability to craft timeless songs that are as familiar as an old set of work gloves, but as inspirational and uplifting as the finest hymn on a warm, countryside Sunday morning. This is the beginning, and I, for one, look forward to a long and rich companionship with this band's music.

-Embo Blake

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