Singer-song­writer’s lat­est al­bum re­flects on deep loss, un­chang­ing love

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - By Michael Cor­co­ran

Life can change in an in­stant, even when you live in a farm­house 10 miles out­side a Mis­souri town with a dou­ble-digit pop­u­la­tion. A 13-yearold Nathaniel Rateliff was sup­posed to meet his fa­ther, a car­pen­ter and mu­si­cian, at church one day, but en route, Ce­cil “Red” Rateliff was broad­sided by a bar­rel­ing pickup and didn’t make it.

A month af­ter the fu­neral, Nathaniel Rateliff, a drum­mer since age 7, learned how to play gui­tar on his mother’s 12-string. He also dropped out of school and worked in a fac­tory to help sup­port his fam­ily.

Con­tin­ued from G

Eigh­teen years later comes “In Me­mory of Loss,” an al­bum that has crit­ics hail­ing Rateliff, with a voice pure and melodies ten­der, as Leonard Co­hen’s son or as mix of Nicks, Cave and Drake.

The al­bum’s open­ing track, “Once In a Great While,” sounds a lit­tle like Co­hen’s “Hal­lelu­jah,” the first song Rateliff learned on the pi­ano.

The lilt­ing songs, writ­ten two years ago to im­press the woman who’s now Rateliff’s wife, are not pre­cisely about his fa­ther but seem built on pieces of love that never leave. A key word is “and,” that bridge be­tween look­ing back and mov­ing on, with such stand­outs as “Long­ing and Los­ing,” “Oil and Laven­der,” “Wim­per and Wail” ex­plor­ing the flip sides of emo­tions.

Re­leased by Rounder, the home of rootsy singer-song­writ­ers open­ing its gate a lit­tle wider, the record was pro­duced in Chicago by Brian Deck, which has led to mis­guided com­par­isons to Deck’s main client, Iron & Wine. Sam Beam of I&W is a poet who sings; Rateliff is a big-voiced singer who writes songs.

“To me, it was, like, a fluke that I could write songs,” says the guy whose ear­li­est mu­si­cal di­rec­tion came from a cas­sette of “Led Zep­pelin IV” he found in an old barn. “My goal was to be a hot­shot gui­tarist.” Danc­ing on the ef­fects ped­als, his Den­ver-based rock band Born In the Flood made a lot of well-praised noise with 2007’s “If This Thing Should Spill.”

But Rateliff also was dis­cov­er­ing a more per­sonal side to his mu­sic and recorded his first solo al­bum “De­sire and Dis­solv­ing Men” while still a mem­ber of Born in the Flood. His solo act was orig­i­nally called the Wheel, but there was an­other band called the Wheel and then came the “Wil­lie and the Wheel” al­bum by Wil­lie Nel­son and Asleep at the Wheel. Rateliff now has a five-piece band, but bills it as his name.

“I still per­form solo some­times and I like that,” he says. “But I like a band bet­ter when you’re try­ing to get the at­ten­tion of peo­ple who might not know who you are.”

He loves noth­ing bet­ter, he says, than play­ing to a crowd of in­tense lis­ten­ers. “It seems like there’s a new re­spect for singer-song­writ­ers,” he says. “I think it’s come back to the ’60s in a way, when no­body cared about the mu­sic in­dus­try. It’s come back to the songs and what they mean.” Rateliff’s in­tro­spec­tive, yet ac­ces­si­ble mu­sic is of­ten lumped in with the likes of Bill Cal­la­han, Bon Iver and Bl­itzen Trap­per.

When he’s not on the road, Rateliff works as a gar­dener back in Den­ver. He loves to watch things grow. Plus it pays well and, as of last year, when he got mar­ried and be­came the step­fa­ther of a 13year-old kid, he’s got a new fam­ily to sup­port. How fast things can change.

Brant­ley Gu­tier­rez

Nathaniel Rateliff went to work as a young teen to sup­port his fam­ily, but he never lost his con­nec­tion to the mu­sic he’s been play­ing since he was 7. His al­bum, ‘In Me­mory of Loss,’ came out in May.

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