The paradigm of heartbreak shifted in one fell swoop when Bon Iver turned towards the country. Suddenly, all manner of bearded troubadours were packing their bags and heading out to a shotgun shack, yet Justin Vernon probably spent four days sitting in a freezing log cabin before he learned how to make a fire. Hell, the poor boy only had a sophomoric approximation of the blues, something best cured with a good night out and a bacon buttie in the morning.
Nathaniel Rateliff, though, knows a thing or two about the wilds. The American songwriter looks as though he could wrestle a grizzly bear before breakfast, before using a rattlesnake to hold his trousers up. Yet he also knows a thing or two about true isolation – and it doesn’t come from hiding in the mountains.
Largely written on the road, ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ contains 11 tracks, 11 meditations on people, relationships and the nature of being alone. Loosely pegged as Americana, Rateliff pulls on truly American influences in the widest sense using everything from bluegrass to jazz as a palette to draw from.
Sure, some of these tricks you’ll have heard before: ‘Don’t Get Too Close’ – as effective as it is – has a guttural use of dynamics, shifting from quiet to loud in a heartbeat. Yet this isn’t an album about invention, of progression for progression’s sake, but rather a study of character, of the means in which can songwriter can place themselves at the heart of their work.
‘Still Trying’ is anxious, gentle in its intensity, while ‘Nothing To Show For’ is desperation writ alongside near-Springsteen levels of bombast. ‘Right On’ is a gentle jazz shuffle, while ‘When Do You See’ is a simple country ballad with tinkling notes of piano in support.
Simple, unaffected songwriting with a direct emotional pull, ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ is swarming with undercurrents, with nuances that only become more marked over time. Born from isolation, it’s an album that can’t fail to connect.
Words: Robin Murray
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