Austin Crane, the singer, guitarist and songwriter behind Valley Maker, plays with a light country twang that is gentle and almost never rushed. His atmospheric, folky vibe melds well with his not-so-smooth voice, which gives a distinctive quality to his work. And though his voice is not always pleasant to listen to, the questions about age and place and growing roots or returning to old haunts frames his latest album, When the Day Leaves, are interesting because they try to personalize the big questions without removing the listener entirely.
Like his previous albums—Rhododendron (2018) and When I Was a Child (2015)—When the Day Leaves is steeped in country influence. Yet the melodies are not sugarcoated, and the harmonies have a bit of echo and repetition to them. Songs like “Instrument” and “No One Is Missing” have similar tones, using guitar, backing vocals, main vocals, in the same sort of formats, same sort of compositional structures. That’s not to say they are overly formulaic, but they could be identified as belonging to the same album quite easily. Whether this is a pro or a con is really up to the listener, but it does become more con when the whole is monotone.
Though new to this artist, as you might be, I recognized the type of style immediately. When the Day Leaves recalled Barna Howard, and a bit of earlier Sarah Harmer or Kathleen Edwards. I was most surprised when I thought of James Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind” during the first quarter of the album, but it’s a great precursor to associate with When the Day Leaves, as it, too, deals with time and place. Austin Crane’s obvious southern drawl and accent disrupt these artist comparisons a bit, but the guitar riffs and the echoing backing vocals should be familiar at times. The fifth track “Mockingbird” was particularly likable and used an almost meditative melody that rolled along rather well. It’s Crane at his best.
When the Day Leaves is a tightly knit album, but that comes at the expense of experimentation; the song consistency of keeping to a certain, specific tone overweighs the fun of exploring new territory. Crane keeps his fingers on the strings and plays them without the distraction of what could be possible. This is a bit of a drawback. We know, already, that Crane is both a good guitarist and songwriter. However, there are no surprises; it’s as if he recorded all these songs stuck in one spot, never drawing inspiration from something foreign, something new and wondrous. Track ten, “Line Erasing” came the closest to divesting from the former set pace. The horns were a new and effective addition and the almost urgent thrum of the guitar kept me humming along.
All of this so far is not as negative as it at first seems. When the Day Leaves seems to be trying to tell a story about Crane’s current life, about the place he has settled. For listeners new to his style or to the overall echoey, repetitive quality evident in his work, it may be a bit boring, a bit slow-paced and spacey. Perhaps, this is because he is so caught up in trying to relay this story, that he has forgotten to show the spontaneity of life; life doesn’t just drag on, but holds surprises as well. If you asked me to name a single track (other than “Mockingbird” maybe), I could not. The uniformity is that overbearing. Though I admire Crane’s technique and performance quality, When the Day Leaves leaves something to be desired.
Born in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Konstantin Nicholas Rega currently attends East Anglia's famous MA in Creative Writing with the Ink, Sweat and Tears Scholarship. He is a professional musician, the former host/producer of Jazz Jams on CSRfm 97.4, and twice a Dan Veach Prize for Younger Poets finalist. He is the Fiction Editor for Crack the Spine and a contributor to The Black Lion Journal. He also blogs.