While recording In Memory of Loss, Rateliff lived in Chicago, working with producer Brian Deck to craft the nuances: mournful harmonica on “You Should’ve Seen the Other Guy,” the ominous organ of “Longing and Losing,” propulsive bass drum on “Early Spring Till.” Rateliff’s Rounder debut is rooted in a bygone era. It’s both fresh and classic, imbued with a melancholy nostalgia, the rough candor of rock’n’roll’s past and the warmth and earnestness of folk storytellers. Rateliff has a personal connection to the sounds of the 60s and 70s. “It was more about songs, and not about an industry,” he says. “It was about a movement, not about making money. I think we’re moving back into that again. There’s still an importance in actually writing songs again. People are interested in hearing things that make sense.”
These thirteen tracks, with their soulful minimalism, certainly make sense. Hints of the music he grew up on – Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, the Beatles—shine through. (Album closer “Happy Just To Be,” with its pounding piano chords, is a close cousin to the Lennon-penned “Across the Universe.”) Yet Rateliff is also at home in what may be called, for lack of a better term, the neo-folk revival. His voice is so confident that you can occasionally imagine the music dropping out entirely, a song propelled solely by Rateliff’s a capella strengths—equal parts church spiritual and TV on the Radio riffing on the Pixies’ “Mr. Grieves.”
“The one thing that made me want to write and play music was trying to get the same feeling that it gave me when I listened to it,” Rateliff says. “Like having an anxiety attack—where you almost start to weep, at the same time feel a strange pressure in your chest.” This persistent troubadour has struggled and persevered to this point; now, the wider world is ready for Nathaniel Rateliff. “In Memory of Loss,” he says, “is for everyone who’s willing to listen.