Album Review: Nathaniel Rateliff – Falling Faster Than You Can Run

By on Friday, 31st January 2014 at 1:00 pm
 

Falling Faster Than You Can Run coverAmerican folk artist Nathaniel Rateliff is currently in the midst of a tour of the UK and Ireland in support of his second studio album, ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’, which was released on the 20th of January. Folk-tinged rock and pop are certainly all the rage thanks to artists like Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, but Rateliff’s brand of folk music is purer than most, not merely rough around the edges, but coarse and gritty straight to the core.

‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ is a soulfully dark collection of songs written from the perspective of a man who has hit rock bottom and lived to tell the tale, but he hasn’t quite pulled himself out of the mire. As a whole, the album reminded me very much of the overwhelming despair in Frightened Rabbit’s most recent full-length record ‘Pedestrian Verse’. With his stocky build and scruffy beard, Rateliff even bears a mild physical resemblance to Scott Hutchison. But instead of a Scottish accent, Rateliff’s music has a distinctly American inflection, with the use of coarse vernacular language, jazz harmonies and heavy acoustic guitar. And while ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is the most extrospective of Frightened Rabbit’s repertoire, ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ feels acutely and painfully personal.

Opening track ‘Still Trying’ immediately represents the main characteristics of the album. Rateliff’s rough gravelly voice sounds like that of a much older man, and his slurred delivery often makes his lyrics difficult to understand. This is particularly unfortunate, as the lyrics I was able to decipher were emotionally powerful if not always elegant, for example, “And if you’re rolling in it long enough your shit won’t even smell” and the roaring repetition of “I don’t know a goddamn thing”.

Vigorous tracks ‘Laborman’ and ‘Nothing to Show For’ save the album from becoming completely entrenched in its own anguished misery. ‘Laborman’ is a Springsteen-esque working man’s tune whose quick tempo and musical energy has the added benefit of clarifying Rateliff’s vocal delivery for one of the album’s best lyrics: “You’ll have to choke down the dust of me left in your mouth. You got the harness, so where you gonna drag me now?”

‘Nothing to Show For’ is resigned to its own despondence, but the pounding four-to-the-floor rhythm between the verses hints at a forward motion also suggested in the lyrics, “You don’t listen, you just talk / Well, leave me in the dark / I don’t wanna know.” The live video version below is, in my opinion, clearer and more effective than the version on the album itself.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7pfEsHQuzU[/youtube]

The main surprises on the album came in the form of jazz harmonies and expanded instrumentation on ‘How To Win” and ‘Right On’. ‘Right On’ was my immediate favorite track on the album, though its smooth warmth and intimacy didn’t quite seem to fit in with the rest. The horns, piano and backing vocals set off the ironically optimistic lyrics, “Well, say that you’re with me / We’ll leave tomorrow / And slip through the daylight / Leave all the sorrow”, with a tiny but poignant sadness, a feeling of wanting to believe the words despite knowing they can’t be true.

Eponymous track ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ is a perfect conclusion to the record. Its broadly arching musical phrases and wider instrumental sound creates a dramatic feeling of inevitable tragedy. The deep, almost spoken, vocal tone Rateliff uses to deliver the line “When I hit the ground, gonna laugh out loud / gonna lay there awhile and stare at the clouds” bring to mind classic American country artists like Johnny Cash.

Fans of the late Man in Black, as well as fans of the aforementioned Laura Marling and Frightened Rabbit, will find much to like in the deep emotional quagmire of ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’, while those looking for more of a Mumford-esque folk rock vibe should perhaps turn and run the other way. The painful honesty and poignant sincerity in Rateliff’s performance here would no doubt translate tenfold on a live stage for a listener brave enough to bear it.

7.5/10

‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ is available now on Mod y Vi Records.

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