The frosted and chilly cover of Nathaniel Rateliff’s newest collection of songs, “Falling Faster Than You Can Run,” with two naked bodies, lying still and apart, while partially covered with bed sheets, makes you squirm. It puts those tiny spiders in your serum and your stomach feels agitated, empathetically feeling for those two lovers, once removed or remaining. Where they lie is about the coldest form of warmth you’ll ever touch, but that half-folded hand reaching over is the sign that a fight will be put up to see that love is saved.
Rateliff writes from that place where tears are being dabbed or brushed with the hairy back side of a slow hand, when a reluctant but hopeful smile is peeking loose beneath those dark trackings. He writes tragedies the way that Raymond Carver wrote tragedies, as if they were unrecognizable as anything other than everyday life. They are stories of the enduring power of a hope that we occasionally find that we have to drill new wells so that it can be pumped out and exposed. It might not be ever-present, but it’s strangely and thankfully dependable.
The man who was born in tiny Hermann, Missouri, one of those “if you blink you’ll miss it” kinds of places, as his mother describes them, writes like a guy who lost his father as a seventh-grade boy, during a particularly rainy year, almost 22 years ago now. He writes like a guy who dropped out of school not long after that, who was raised by a loving and determined, heartache-filled mother who cleaned houses, landscaped for a Tyson chicken exec and fried chicken, baked cakes and served up BLTs in countless kitchens to make the ends meet, who at 17 was working as the nighttime janitor at the high school where he was supposed to be attending classes, who worked at Subway for enough money to buy a car cause that’s what you do when your house is seven miles down a gravel road, who has the same best friend since childhood, since they worked in the plastic factory together before deciding to move to Denver to pursue their musical dreams, who feels almost beaten every damned day. He writes like a man who knows that there will be more where that all came from.
“Falling Faster,” an album that Rateliff recorded and produced in homes with Jamie Mefford, follows the critically acclaimed 2010 album, “In Memory of Loss,” which he toured long and hard on. The prolonged traveling made all of his personal relationships suffer. It broke him down. He felt more wounds, more of those taxing body blows and out came these 11 exhilarating tales of human beings doing everything they can to keep the small fires burning and their heads above the flooded waters. “Still Trying,” “Three Fingers In” and “When Do You See” hurt so much, but then they all do, so beautifully. It’s a gathering of the pieces of Rateliff, as they exist, as actual pieces of him. He’s offering you his skin. He is giving you a limb. He can’t take any of it back. He says, “I’ve always wanted to affect people. Not many people cry and they probably should.”