In "Early Spring Till," the second track on Nathaniel Rateliff's debut In Memory of Loss, the folk singer/songwriter asserts, "I think I've been there" — feeling tired, wrung out, cut up, failed and pressed down. Instead of dwelling on his shortcomings, though, Rateliff belts, "I could fill up with air and scream so loud," pauses, then concludes softly with "I think I'm going to." Whether or not those screams are as literal as the startling death cry at the end of "You Should've Seen The Other Guy," the bulk of Loss allows bottled-up failures, insecurities and vulnerabilities to boil over into needed release.
Rateliff's songs rise and fall, moments of hushed jazz and soulful gospel humming paired with wailing harmonies, rootsy violin and bantering electric guitar. "Longing and Losing" starts with a restrained, barely-there guitar before unfolding into a flowing waltz; album closer "Happy Just to Be" is founded on steady piano chords and laced with a weeping cello. Rateliff's tight-knit band, formerly known as the Wheel, always swells and recedes at the right times, never overpowering the vocals. His warm baritone is calming and his tone uniformly melancholic, but it's clear that all Rateliff really wants is for others to find comfort through catharsis: "Hey," he says in "A Lamb on the Stone," "what's the trouble with softness of skin?"