Sometimes it’s all in the album cover. A dead centre portrait of a young woman in a powder blue prairie dress lounging proudly atop the roof of a Ford pick-up truck artfully laden with roses, in a field that could be anywhere in middle America. It looks like an old Loretta Lynn LP updated for the Instagram age. It’s bold, strong and so ripe with country music’s southern romanticism that it’s impossible not to be completely and utterly here for this, goddamnit, before hearing a note of the music within.
That the music on Saint Cloud is very good should come as no surprise to those already familiar with the work of Katie Crutchfield, who has been releasing beautifully contemplative indie-rock under the name Waxahatchee for the last decade. 2018’s Great Thunder EP saw a more pronounced country twang creeping in and has led us to the sonic terrain of Saint Cloud. It’s not a radical departure by any means but rather a smooth step in cowboy boots towards a carefree and pleasingly rustic Americana. This sits well with Crutchfield’s newfound tranquility following her move from Philadelphia to Kansas City and getting sober following years of drinking on tour. The pastoral influence also comes from a rediscovery of her teenage heroes like Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris, saying in a recent interview: “All these country powerhouse women. I wanted to step into that power a little bit.”
An authoritative power does emanate from the album’s strongest tracks, Crutchfield’s lyrics rich and perceptive as she documents the struggle towards self-actualization amidst romantic longing that has long been her concern. The breezy Dylan-esque strums of Can’t Do Much and Lilacs overflow with golden couplets like “We will coalesce our heaven & hell / My eyes roll around like dice on the felt / My mind turns to something useless & trite / My uneasiness materialized / I want you, all the time”. Most striking is the growing acceptance that Waxahatchee is here for the long haul, an artistic calling finally found with many songs an ode to a life spent searching and creating (“We are enthralled by the calling of the eye / We come running, we always abide”). By the time the gorgeously delicate title-track closes the album it’s easy to imagine Crutchfield eventually joining that lineage of powerhouse women: “Burning slow, burning slow / And when I go / Look back at me, embers aglow.”