Nathaniel Rateliff may have one of the most piercingly uncommon voices I have yet welcomed into the chapel. It zings through the air when he lets it loose and it is absolutely impossible not to turn your head and gape. Nathaniel makes music that you can’t ignore, and you really don’t want to. Looking like a hard-swilling sailor stumbled off a boat on leave with his turquoise rings and pearl snaps, he disarms with his cathedral-filling voice that grew up singing in churches and, likely, breaking a heart or two.
I remember hearing Nathaniel years ago, fronting his band Born In The Flood, opening for Kings of Leon on a rainy Denver night. Even with a full, loud band behind him I could tell that this was something special. He has honed his voice as a spry instrument over the years I have known him, and now I find it as powerful in the whisper as the wail. There’s also this wry half-smile behind everything I hear Nathaniel sing, a patience and an insight that this song will, eventually, get you, as it alternates cartwheeling in the best wandering-troubadour showmanship and quietly probing in truths and failures.
Three of these songs are brand new creations, unveiled just for us in the chapel, the grey afternoon before our house show. Nathaniel seems to be in a fomenting fertile stage right now, starting new soul bands (Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, probably my favorite new band name in a good while) and playing with old friends in groups like Miss America (with longtime bandmate Joseph Pope III and other Denver luminaries, incidentally playing May 10 in Colorado Springs for The Changing Colors CD release party).
All of these new songs ache, all of them need to be listened to. I am so glad he’s writing like a maniac these days, and we get to reap the results.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #24: NATHANIEL RATELIFF
February 21, 2013 – Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs
No Place To Fall (Townes Van Zandt)
Nathaniel started the session with this cover, which seems almost unfair to knock the wind out of me so soon. There is such a gentle lilt and cadence to the way he sings those cripplingly sad lyrics about knowing you need to fall, like a slow-motion tumble down stairs. And that sideways wince when he sings the lines, “but I’m sure wantin’ you…”. I didn’t think there was a way to make Townes songs even sadder, but somehow — there it is.
Don’t Get Too Close
This song dances almost mischievously, an easy shuffle even as it warns us not to come any closer, as if it could spin away at any moment. “Wait, don’t come any closer,” it warns, maybe kindly, maybe evasively. “It was something you couldn’t see.” (watch the video)
Forgetting Is Believing
There’s a line in one of my most-beloved poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which places us “when the evening is spread out against the sky, like a patient etherized upon a table” and in the streets there is “the yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes, licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.”
This song curls and nuzzles and rises hazily just like that, the siren song of forgetting. (watch the video)
“Can I play that?” Nathaniel asked, eyeing towards the back of the stage at the shining Steinway piano. “Yes, PLEASE,” I replied — and wow. What tumbled out of him is this rueful, elegiac hymn that tugs at long winter days and growing older in frozen slumber.
I’ve been thinking of piano a lot lately, as we fight through the final, sometimes-brutal days of Spring before Summer. Songs like this are why.
DOWNLOAD THE ZIP: NATHANIEL RATELIFF CHAPEL SESSION