There are many different approaches when it comes to acoustic / folk music. The easiest one is the least interesting: happy-go-lucky style with some cheesy guitars and irrelevant lyrics. Then comes the sentimental variant: words become more important than music, there is a message underneath each sad story told. Sometimes you may also run across the riot folk, it does not happen very often though. While it is relatively easy for a singer songwriter to fit one of the given three categories above, it is the fourth one that should be considered the most noble: classic folk storytelling with a modern twist. Ok, I admit, there is no such genre, I actually came up with that name just now, for the purpose of this article. However, I do believe there are musicians who measure up and can be defined as fresh and classy, rough and melancholic at the same time. Ladies and gentlemen, therefore I present you Mr. Nathaniel Rateliff: the man who has it all.
No need to beat about the bush: the very first notes of In Memory Of Loss make it obvious to see this is not a usual debut album. There is nothing accidental here: the overall sound surprises with clarity and thoughtful use of space. Seems like Missouri-native Nathaniel Rateliff managed to find the perfect balance: with minimum instrumental input he achieves the maximum possible output. The magic is in the details: soothing harmonies of the backing vocals, mindful piano accompaniment, distinguish arrangement of strings, delicate jazzy drums in the background. With that kind of foundation, there is no need to shout or show off: Rateliff’s voice comes in smoothly, warm and inviting. He tells stories about relationships and tough times, shares few secrets, then lithely swings out of a bar fight. Wounded but graceful, genuine yet still impeccable, direct and mesmerizing at the very same time. Some of the songs carry a strong reminiscence of Johnny Cash, others bear a significant grace and class that even Richard Hawley would be jealous of. Comfortably drifting among all the obvious influences, Nathaniel Rateliff manages to stay true to his roots, making a very considerable impact on modern folk and becoming a quality himself. Despite the undeniable charm and dignity In Memory Of Loss is filled with, its author remains genuinely modest and likeable. A straightforward guy next door you would imagine him to be in his everyday life. It might be his greatest advantage of all: for every phrase he sings, there is a believable character behind the story and emotion he deals with.
Times are good for guys with guitars nowadays: seems like plenty of young people try to get some attention from audiences all over the world. But it takes a lot more than just playing a couple of chords and singing few nice lines about your broken heart to stand out. There is a thin line between the raw simplicity of an acoustic masterpiece and a dull, meaningless patchwork of clichés. While we certainly need a reminder on basic truths about life from time to time, it is the way they are served that matters the most. Honesty is a singer songwriter’s strongest weapon. Then comes the very individual signature of sound, based on experience, influences and evolution. But the foundation of all is a thoughtful mind and a beautiful – though often troubled – soul. I believe there is no exaggeration in saying Nathaniel Rateliff comes in with the total package, including: integrity in lyrics, sophistication in the sound and magnificent tone of voice. But as seeing is believing, do not hesitate to familiarize with his remarkable debut album: it is the definition of modern singer songwriting at its best.