Waxahatchee – Tigers Blood

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Waxahatchee Tigers Blood review

Beneath the sound of a singer/songwriter on Waxahatchee‘s first few records was a beating punk rock heart, made more explicit onstage when she’d play early standouts like “La Loose” and “Lips and Limbs” a few dozen BPMs faster, a few decibels louder. Before making her debut as Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield played in P.S. Eliot, a scrappy, scruffy D.I.Y. indie rock band with her twin sister, Allison (who likewise played in another scrappy group, Swearin’). And as she established herself as a uniquely talented solo performer, that aspect of her music never seemed too far behind her. As she’s grown and evolved as an artist, however, Crutchfield has found more room for open space in her songs and more quiet introspection without the enhancement of stormy, distorted guitars—and more than a little reverence for the influence of country and Americana.

Crutchfield’s 2020 album Saint Cloud—which arrived as the strongest album to date in her consistently rewarding career—found her sounding more comfortable than ever in the majesty of simplicity, delivering songs that drew their power from not being overthought or overwritten. Where once describing an album as “mature” might have been taken as backhanded praise, here it felt like the best possible compliment—an artist once defined by a kind of youthful turbulence gracefully transitioning to an arguably even more rewarding period of confidence and insights that only come through time and experience.

Tigers Blood is even better—arguably the best of her career. Most of it written during a fortuitous creative spell while on tour in 2022, Tigers Blood is cut from a similar swatch of flannel and denim as its predecessor, flecked with plucks of banjo and acoustic strums, wide open skies and quiet Sunday afternoons. These songs breathe easy, feel lived in, drawing even closer to the songbooks of her oft-cited influences such as Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris, Jason Molina and Townes Van Zandt. They’re clever, honest and affecting—perhaps not songs you felt like you’ve heard before, but perhaps ones you’d wish you had, songs you might need at some point later down the line.

The ease that Crutchfield captured on Saint Cloud has likewise become one of the defining characteristics of Tigers Blood, an album that finds comfort in discomfort, and grand gestures in simply observing the natural course of things. Opener “3 Sisters” feels like a big statement in spite of or perhaps because of its simplicity, a stark four-chord hymn that showcases the mesmerizing range of Crutchfield’s voice as she reflects on her own role in a troubled relationship: “I’m defenseless against the sales pitch/am I your moat or your drawbridge?” Only a few tracks later, in a breathtakingly beautiful duet with MJ Lenderman on “Right Back to It,” Crutchfield writes a love song about moving beyond the excitement and drama and on into the moment where “you just settle in/like a song with no end/if i can keep up/we’ll get right back to it.” It’s one of the simplest, most poignant narratives she’s written, wrapped in harmonies that pull sharply at the heartstrings.

As of the release of Tigers Blood, Crutchfield is six years sober, and on its standout ballad “365,” much like with the bare chords of “3 Sisters,” she offers a beautifully written and empathetic song about addiction through the starkest of arrangements. “If you fly up beyond the cosmos, it’s a long way to fall back down,” she sings, “you always go about this the wrong way, and I’m too weak to just let you drown.” It’s the most heartbreaking moment on the record, treated gently and with care. But even when the stakes are lower, Crutchfield effortlessly leaves her impact through some of her most cleverly intricate turns of phrase, channeling a moment of genuine frustration on alt-country barnburner “Bored” (“I can get along/My spine’s a rotted two-by-four/barely hanging on/My benevolence hits the floor“) or effortlessly finding some heat in the dying embers of what may or may not have been better times on “Evil Spawn.”

There’s a slight element of raucousness that finds its way back into Tigers Blood, aided in no small part by the constant presence of Lenderman’s jangly guitar throughout the album’s 12 songs, underscoring some of the loose threads and stories that don’t have happy endings. Though Waxahatchee has more than established her Americana bona fides, on songs such as “Bored” and “Ice Cold,” her music seems just as essential a part of a long legacy of Southern indie/alt-rock in the tradition of Drive-By Truckers or even early R.E.M. Amid the moments of quiet introspection and earnest intimacy, Crutchfield still finds more than a few moments to kick up a little dust. These are songs written from a life beyond youthful chaos, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a little rowdy now and then.

Label: Anti-

Year: 2024

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Waxahatchee Tigers Blood review

Waxahatchee: Tigers Blood

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