Singer/songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff, who hails from a tiny town in Missouri, makes his official solo debut with In Memory of Loss. He started out as part of a band called Born in the Flood before cutting Desire and Dissolving Men, an album of homemade recordings, under the name the Wheel on Denver-based micro-indie Public Service Records. Nevertheless, Rateliff's Rounder debut marks the first time he has recorded strictly under his own name. Producer Brian Deck, who has worked with the likes of Iron and Wine and Modest Mouse, is at the helm here, but he doesn't weigh the album down with a lot of excess arrangements. Instead, he gives Rateliff plenty of room to do his thing, keeping the tracks agreeably spare and letting the songs themselves remain front and center. Most of the cuts on In Memory of Loss contain little more than acoustic guitar, bass, and piano backing Rateliff's voice, which comes off as a cross between M Ward and the late Vic Chesnutt in both physical and emotional tone. A couple of tracks -- "Whimper and Wail" and "A Lamb on the Stone" -- feature a full rhythm section and pick up the tempo a bit, but for the most part, this an album of ballads in the grand troubadour tradition. Lyrically, Rateliff seems to be coming from an intensely personal place, to the degree that it's often difficult to determine the specifics of the scenarios presented in his songs, but when he throws some hard images into the mix -- which happens with some regularity throughout the album -- the listener is given something winningly idiosyncratic to latch onto and ponder, even if it doesn't quite make the emotional intent clearer. But hey, nobody knows what Bob Dylan is talking about on some of his best songs, either.
AllMusic Review by James Allen