Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud review – the best album of the year so far

(Merge Records)
With tracks that nestle in heartache and bask in hard-won wisdom, this is an artefact of American song that measures up to Dylan at his peak

According to the title of her previous album, Alabama songwriter Katie Crutchfield was Out in the Storm, playing breakup songs with a hulking rhythm section. On the follow-up, she sounds like she’s out the other side of it, more or less.

With the wind dropped and the air cleared, Crutchfield has turned away from indie-rock entirely to embrace the Americana and country-rock of her native region, and in so doing has made the best album of the year so far. Aided by unfussy, clean but never sterile production by Brad Cook – and perhaps the sobriety she has recently embraced – the haze has lifted and her songwriting can really be seen.

Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud album art work
Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud album art work Photograph: Publicity image

What songs these are, genuinely good enough to be compared with peak Dylan: like him, Crutchfield is adept at nestling into the almost comforting niche of heartache and hopping out again with a grin (“Marlee’s in the back just trying to maintain her wind on the weathervane” is just one very Dylanesque line, too). On the infectious mid-tempo hoedown Can’t Do Much, she’s happily hopeless, “honey on a spoon”, and on The Eye there’s more joyously wild new love: “You watch me like I’m a jet stream.”

But the album is full of hard-won wisdom, some of it self-lacerating, set to backings that are variously stoic and bruised. The peak on this high plateau of American song is Ruby Falls, a frank, poetic valediction to a former lover about how things just don’t work out sometimes. You can almost feel her hand in theirs; once again, she clears the air to reveal something beautiful and true.

Contributor

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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