Nathaniel Rateliff Salves Raw Wounds on 'Falling Faster Than You Can Run'

Nathaniel-Rateliff

It’s not as common as you’d think, but there are singers who can command an audience simply with their voices. Nathaniel Rateliff is one of them. The Denver singer and songwriter has a pleasantly worn, lived-in voice that he deploys with quiet confidence — until he lets loose. The way Rateliff uses volume can be downright devastating as he switches from resigned murmur to ringing burst of anguish in a heart-stopping instant. He did it on some of the best songs on his 2010 LP, “In Memory of Loss” (especially on “You Should Have Seen the Other Guy”), and it’s a technique he refines on his latest, “Falling Faster Than You Can Run” (Mod y Vi Records).

Like its predecessor, “Falling Faster” is full of often-lacerating introspection on songs structured around acoustic guitars and Rateliff’s voice. He sings in quiet, somber tones on opener “Still Trying” as the arrangement builds, then flips the dynamic: the guitars all but drop out, leaving his voice bare and unaccompanied when he cries, “I don’t know a goddamn thing.” “Don’t Get Too Close” takes a jauntier tack with a bouncy guitar figure and a bass drum that skips along beneath Rateliff’s voice, which remains front and center; while “When Do You See” finds him drawling softly, over minimal accompaniment from a lightly strummed guitar and dusting of piano, until he emphasizes the refrain with riveting double-tracked vocals. “Nothing to Show For” puts the emphasis on the loping folk-rock musical arrangement as Rateliff bellows over a blend of guitars and a sturdy, propulsive beat; and he lays back in a deep pocket on the light, jazzy “Right On.”

By the time he closes out the album with the title track, Rateliff sounds weary and wrung out. Over drifting eddies of atmospheric noise, he is at once loving and defeated when he sings in low tones of using his shirt to bind a lover’s wound. It’s an apt metaphor for Rateliff, whose songs exist at the intersection of raw wound and salve. At its best, the combination is profound, and “Falling Faster Than You Can Run” is Rateliff at his best.

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