Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Waxahatchee continues perfecting her songcraft on Tigers Blood

"Tigers Blood"

Release date: 22 March 2024
Waxahatchee Tigers Blood cover
22 March 2024, 09:00 Written by John Amen

On 2020’s Saint Cloud, Katie Crutchfield, a.k.a. Waxahatchee, fully embraced an Americana MO. Drawing from her country and folk heroes, she reveled in chic lyrics and irresistible vocals.

Collaborating with producer Brad Cook, Crutchfield departed from the opaquer sound of earlier work, each track built around diamond melodies and a buoyant narrative style. The result was a set that reinvigorated and raised the bar for contemporary folk-rock, alt-country, and country-pop.

With her latest release, Tigers Blood, Crutchfield again basks in exemplary hooks, though the new project’s tone and timbre are more varied, as she boldly assesses her life, plunging into what occasionally occurs as an AA 4th Step (Crutchfield’s been sober since 2019). Again benefitting from Brad Cook’s helmsmanship, she manouever well-crafted and energetically rendered soundscapes. Wednesday guitarist MJ Lenderman’s contributions are integral, consistently enhancing Crutchfield’s songsmithery and vocals.

While Crutchfield’s deliveries on Saint Cloud were largely impeccable, her performances on Tigers Blood are even more dynamic, brimming with courage and doubt, equanimity and agitation, ennui and dashes of innocence. On “Evil Spawn”, for example, Crutchfield forges an immediately compelling melody, at once detached and engaged with the moment at hand. The view is philosophic and aerial yet viscerally charged. “Ice Cold” similarly spotlights Crutchfield as she punctuates a loose storyline with self-critiques (“some folktale I’m keeping alive / while the curtain falls”) and wry humor (“we say the same thing / and yet we argue”).

On the single “Right Back to It”, an early contender for song of the year, Crutchfield reflects on a relationship that was shot through with disappointment (“Your love written on a blank check”). Still, the couple kept reuniting, as often happens (“You just settle in / like a song with no end”). Crutchfield’s and Lenderman’s blended vocals on the chorus are velvety; Lenderman’s guitar solo is contained yet tasteful, complementary.

“We been checked out, chasing the money / I been trying to tell them it ain’t no way to live”, Crutchfield offers on “Burns Out at Midnight”, expressing frustration with the way the push for financial security and career advancement often eclipses the experience of simply being alive without a driving agenda. The track integrates the downcast or even nihilistic leanings of such LPs as Cerulean Salt and Out in the Storm with the balminess of Saint Cloud (and 2022’s I Walked with You a Ways, her collaboration with Jess Williamson under the moniker Plains). In this way, Tigers Blood employs an aesthetic broad enough to contain the paradoxes Crutchfield seeks to explore – remorse and healing, grief and mischievousness, setting boundaries and giving credit where credit is due.

“Crimes of the Heart” has Crutchfield flirting with a hip-hop cadence (“If you’d left it to me who knows where we would be / reading fortunes for free in someone else’s goldmine”). Poetic realism is crossed with lightheartedness. To quote AA literature, Crutchfield has no need to “regret the past nor shut the door on it”. For the most part, she’s free of guilt and resentment, though also aware that every human embodies contradictions, capable of immense love and gross missteps.

On the closing title song, Crutchfield’s voice soars above an acoustic guitar and leisurely drum beat as she issues a series of vivid images (“drove my jeep through the mud”, “spellbinding copperheads banging a tambourine”, “the smell of dust it creeps up through the cracks in the floor”). A listener is captivated by her casual precision, smiling in response to a feel-good ambience. Her group vocal with Lenderman, the Cooks (Brad and Phil), Spencer Tweedy, and Natalia Chernitsky is transcendent, otherworldly, the stuff of dreamscapes.

While Saint Cloud arguably represents the apex of Crutchfield’s hook-savviness, Tigers Blood features flawlessly sculpted melodies as well as vocals that are more notably complex and lyrics that more thoroughly plumb the human condition. With Tigers Blood, Crutchfield continues to perfect her songcraft and elevate the Americana genre – asserting a panoramic vision, radiating wisdom.

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