Richard phoned me in August 2017 and asked me if I wanted to go and see Waxahatchee at The Komedia. I thought he was just making a name up but apparently this was the real name of a group formed by Katie Crutchfield in 2010. The band is named after Waxahatchee Creek in Alabama, where she grew up.[Her sister Allison was also in the group and, it turned out, was the supporting act. I quite enjoyed the concert but didn’t really know any of the songs and it all blurred into a pleasant enough evening. Doing it the wrong way round, I bought “Out In The Storm” by Waxahatchee and “Tourist In This Town” by Allison Crutchfield AFTER I had seen them. I grew to really like the whole of “Tourist In This Town” and two tracks from “Out In The Storm” (“Recite Remorse” and “Sparks Fly”).
Just before the lockdown due to Covid-19, a whole load of CDs were scheduled for release. Instead of going out and buying beer, I decided to stay in and buy CDs. So I made one order consisting of the new CDs by Drive By Truckers, Clem Snide, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Jason Isbell, a compilation of British blues from 1966-1971, a re release of The Band’s second album and Waxahatchee which was officially released on March 27th and arrived on April 13th.
Here is the context of “Saint Cloud” from the UNCUT review. “Raised on classic country, punk led Katie Crutchfield astray in her early teens. She dissected bad love and directionless feelings with melancholic indie-rock, peaking with “Out In The Storm” which exorcised a bad relationship in noisy guitars. “Saint Cloud” was written and recorded during a period when Crutchfield decided to get sober. The sense of warmth and uplift is all in the music, rich with bright chords and hooks.”
I thought today, I would not write about a record I knew very well. I thought I’d just write in real time while I listen to the CD for the first time. It could, just possibly, be interesting for me to look back on my first impressions in a year’s time when I might have forgotten that I even own this record or it might be the best record of all time. Or somehere in the middle.
The first track is “Oxbow”. It’s slow. the first line is “Barna in white”. What does “Barna” mean? It’s a village in Ireland. It’s probably someone’s name. One of the lines is “When dreams become concrete, they may feel trite”. This is solemn, piano and synthesiser. It’s a low key start. Nice but unremarkable.
“Can’t Do Much” is next. I’ve heard this before – it was on one of the free CDs with MOJO or UNCUT. It sounds like a good pop/country song. Her vocals are sweet, not as sour as they were on the previous record. This seems like a real song rather than a mood piece. “I love you till the day that I die/I guess it don’t matter why”. I like this. It’s got a chorus that I could sing along to – if I could sing.
Track 3 is “Fire”. A quiet start on electric piano. She does have an unusual voice – not a million miles away from Iris DeMent. Not much instrumentation on this. Drums, bass and electric piano. No obvious song structure at first listen. Not sure what the lyrics are about “If I could love you unconditionally/I could iron out the edges of the darkest sky.” The UNCUT review started by quoting Emmylou Harris so I guess I was expecting something more country but this is more like a quietened version of her last record. Not a bad thing but not quite what I was expecting.
“Lilacs” goes straight into it – a bit of a non-stop torrent of words more spoken than sung. It’s good and more up tempo than the last song. Are these words deeply poetic? “If I’m a broken record, write it in the dust, babe/I’ll fill myself up like I used to do/And if my bones are made of delicate sugar/I won’t end up anywhere good without you.” I liked this song.
Track 5 is “The Eye”. Slower. I like a record where the tempos are varied. Great vocals here. The lyrics, as elsewhere seem to be impenetrable. “You watch me like I’m a jet stream/A scientific cryptogram lit up behind a sunbeam.” Oooh. A smidgeon of an electric guitar solo. Nice.
The last track on side 1 is “Hell”. Obviously, it’s a CD so there’s no side 1 or side 2 but this is the last song whose lyrics appear in the first half of the booklet so it’s the last track on side 1 for me. Excellent vocals – slightly melancholic, slightly angry, strong, not weak. “You illuminate me as I galvanise a flowery demise.”
The first track on side 2. “Witches”. Not exactly “Good Day Sunshine” but a cheery upbeat melody and instrumentation. Good.
“War” Another upbeat song. One of the problems I’m having with this is that the lyric booklet (apart from being in white type on a grey background making it hard to read) doesn’t really distinguish between verses and choruses. This means I can’t get a hold on the structure of each song. It would help to know when I was listening to the second verse – or the chorus. Maybe it would be easier if I wasn’t listening, reading the lyrics and typing all at once. This certainly feels like a proper likeable song.
Now on to “Arkadelphia”. Slower. Great start. “I lose my grip, I drive out far/pass fireworks at the old trailer park/And folding chairs. American flags/Selling tomatoes for 5 bucks a bag.” This is a beautiful song. The review in MOJO puts it well: “‘Saint Cloud’ is less about fights and forgiveness than the unrelenting thinking we do about them before and after”. A wonderful song.
The penultimate song is “Ruby Songs.” Another slow song. Stripped back instrumentation. “Real love doesn’t follow a straight line/It breaks your neck, it builds you a delicate shrine.” It seems to be another very personal song forged from heartbreak. However, her real life seems to have no bearing on this. She has been in a relationship with Kevin Morby for three years (I have a Kevin Morby record called “Singing Saw” which is very weird) and in interviews, Katie Crutchfield has said that “Saint Cloud” was largely written about her decision to get sober. Maybe I need to listen to the words again. I definitely need to listen to this record again. I like it. It’s interesting and sounds nice. Such a pejorative word, “nice”, but I don’t mean bland, I mean it’s an uplifting sound.
The last song on the album is the title track. Almost. The album is called “Saint Cloud” and this song is called “St. Cloud”. Having said earlier that I like a variety of tempos, this is the third slow song in a row – and it sounds deeply emotional. Just Katie and a piano. Hang on, an organ is coming in now to add more intensity. “When I go, when I go/Look back at me, embers aglow.” Phew.
I enjoyed listening to the record very much. I think it really merits a lot more listening and is much more approachable than her previous record which was quite angry. This appears more mellow, tuneful but retaining many dark elements. It reminds me of “I Want To See The bright Lights Tonight” in that respect. But that’s for another time.