In 2015, at least from this listener’s perspective, alternative music was upended by the addition of Nathaniel Rateliff to its chorus of new and promising voices. Of course, Nathaniel himself is not new. He’s been around on the Denver music scene since around 2002. Leaving alone that it’s a shame most of us are only just now beginning to hear him and his pop-inflected brand of folk music, reminiscent of 1970’s juggernauts like The Band and Bob Seger, he has so far been unable to make a bad song. With the recent release of ‘You Worry Me’ as a single on alternative radio, some the band’s newest content, he has solidified his ability to continue delivering on this signature sound.
Much of the song is set in a low-key, stripped-down chug of little riffs and solid piano. This forms the bedrock for the aphorisms Rateliff fires off like distant bombs in his rich drawl, his voice sounding drowned in whiskey before being thrown into the mic. Lines like “you gonna find a way to cross and you gonna get there” and “you build walls around your heart to try to lock it in” wage a war for the soul of the listener, singing of hope and seemingly youthful optimism with the stark contrast of being afraid of what that horizon could mean. The fear of everyone’s life is in between the lines of the verses, dreaming of forever but thinking that a nightmare could be around any turn.
Then the chorus hits. The piano departs from its locomotive barrel, just as insistent but resonant with the notes of the last morning before leaving town and lighting out. The horn bursts in overtop the subtle guitar. All of this bespeaking the same understanding that to dare is to live, capped off with Rateliff holding forth with that hearty baritone, capable of hitting us low and scrapping with the clouds:
I’m gonna leave it all out there to dry
I’m gonna live it all out there
I’m gonna leave it all out there to dry up
I’m gonna leave it all out there
The doubt sneaks back in, the lyrics returning to a lover trying to understand the fear of their partner while at the same time coaxing out the spirit in them. We’ve all been there, most of us anyway. We’re eagerly awaiting the decision. “You got time; you’re on the mend, babe,” Nathaniel sings in the song’s bridge. “Everybody wants the same thing.” We’re nodding along as the horn shoots back in and the chorus is burgeoning at the edges of the soundscape. The piano ticks up and, in a moment, we go from the proclamation of putting our cards down on the table, “leaving it all out there to dry up”, to the outro. The namesake of the song lays down the conclusion, over and over:
You worry me
You worry me
You worry me
It’s as though the narrator got the answer he wanted. They’re going to the place they dreamed, but a shred of doubt lingers around the silver lining of the stormcloud. But it’s a chance, and that’s all the singers of songs need.
If Rateliff continues to shell out these kinds of songs, with which his latest album was replete, then it’ll be a tall order in a few years to not refer to him as a modern classic. The unassuming simplicity of his songs are what truly call them home. To hit that stride, the mark of honesty without becoming overwrought or obvious or anthemic, is a feat all its own. Authenticity is the mark of a true artist, and the field right now is choked up with a mob of pretenders and popularly-acclaimed shills. Amid all that nonsense, at least for this dipshit, acts like Rateliff’s are a star to strive towards. I just hope the void gets filled with a few more like him, and soon.