Nathaniel Rateliff – What If I (Fantasy Records)
Nathaniel Rateliff’s new EP What If I was released a few weeks back, produced by Bradley Cook (Bon Iver, Kevin Morby, The War on Drugs) and “R.M.B.,” which is Rateliff, Meese and James Barone (Beach House). Four of the five songs were initially written for his 2021 release The Future, with one song released on that album in another version, “What If I.”
This is quite a sweet treasure. Rateliff is delving ever more deeply into his place in the world of excellent and profound songwriters. This EP moves through new territory, blending a little bit of Beatles / Harry Nilsson pop with signature Rateliff richness, and lyrics that are thoroughly philosophical.
It starts out with “Buy My Round.” This is the new song. The title suggests that it may be a whimsical barroom song, but it is anything but. It’s a little bit of a poppy Beatles-like song that adds layers of depth with Rateliff’s noteworthy vocals and horns. But the lyrics are steeped in meditative realizations: “when all the time we had is dust in the wind, if I had the opportunity to tell you what you mean to me, and all I could say is “I Am.”
“What If I (Cook Brothers version)” is a stripped down version of that song that previously appeared on The Future. On Bandcamp, Nathaniel explains it this way: “I gave it over to Bradley Cook and Phil Cook…Phil arranged the piano part he wrote around just my vocal and added a simple clap. Pat, Mark, and Luke Mossman (guitar) added some extra sounds to Phil’s arrangement while we were on the road, along with shaker and cabasa from Matt McCaughan.”
“That’s Your Opinion” is another easy, stripped down song, and even when the horns make their appearance it’s still nice and easy. “I didn’t recognize myself or the way that I spoke /
Got into a round with a friend / That once told me back, back when / You were a better man when you called your shit out.” A lot of reflection.
“Slow Pace of Time (featuring Charlie Gabriel)” is a shuffly jazzy number and again he takes it nice and slow. “I find it hard to just compare to / Yet you love me, you love me /
That’s all that I had ever ask / But in time, you realize the violins have stopped playing at the bottle’s end.” Charlie Gabriel on clarinet is a jazzy emphasis. Simple and true.
“Suffer Me” is the rockin’ Rateliff that we can always count on coming out from under the surface. Catchy and layered and hornsy. “Can’t believe now ’cause they won’t let you be / And is there any love for me? / You seem to crowd and you bend at the knees / Is there any love for me?”
Nathaniel Rateliff is evolving with more and more depth with each release. You can count on his lyrics to be meaningfully evocative and poetic. Check this one out, sit back and enjoy it.
Find more information and tour dates here: https://www.nathanielrateliff.com
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats “The Future”
Musicians on the album are Nathaniel Rateliff on vocals and guitar, Patrick Meese, on drums; Luke Mossman on guitar; Joseph Pope III on bass; and Mark Shusterman on keys, with Andreas Wild, Jeff Dazey and Daniel Hardaway on horns, and Phil Cook on hand clap with Matt McCaughan on shaker and casaba, and Charlie Gabriel on clarinet.