Album Review: Nathaniel Rateliff – Falling Faster Than You Can Run
You get the sense, listening to parts of Nathaniel Rateliff’s newest album Falling Faster Than You Can Run, that if Greenwich Village, NYC was still home to a thriving folk scene as existed there in the early ‘60s, then the Missouri-raised singer-songwriter would have had no trouble fitting in if he were to decide to make the pilgrimage. Folk music has of course changed in the 50 or so years since, but you can hear in this record a similar adherence to authenticity, a similar embracement of an organic accent, and a similar turning away from the refined production and commerciality of the pop-folk market.
Rateliff, however, is perhaps not as strict in his devotion to the traditional as those in the Village were, and at no point does the album feel aged or irrelevant. Instead the music feels essentially modern and ranges from your ‘one man and a guitar’ intimacy to a Mumford and Sons kind of folk-rock largeness. Some jazzy flavours can also be found in the form of Right On, which, sung partially in a deep croon, illustrates the diversity of Rateliffs vocals. For most of the record, though, his voice moves between mellow Midwestern utterances and outbursts of a timbre that in a way reminds me of a straining Cat Stevens.
Whilst picking favourites on Falling Faster Than You Can Run feels like unfairly faulting those unmentioned, I think I need to highlight a couple. It is the climb from a humble folk grounding to vehement musical peaks that I find so appealing about the self-deprecating opener Still Trying – ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know a god damn thing’ – and the following I Am. There is a potent melodic melancholy in both How To Win and Three Fingers In, the subtle interplay of Rateliff’s voice with a female vocal being particularly effective in achieving such a feeling in the latter. The aforementioned Right On is a refreshing and intriguing change of pace, showing off a different side of Rateliff’s songwriting and reminding me of a couple of the Nick Drake tracks on which he got a bit jazzy. The short and mournful lap-steel interlude in What Do You See is worthy of mention alone and is followed by the eerie, almost Bowie-esque backing of the title track, which provides a sombre and therefore fitting close to a brilliant album of captivating and dignified folk songs.