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Waxahatchee: 'Tigers Blood' Review

Waxahatchee: 'Tigers Blood' album cover


Tigers Blood (Anti-)

SOME PEOPLE HIDE BITTER LITTLE PILLS inside sweet exteriors, their songs pulling you in with gentle melodies and soft surrounds only to send pain coursing through you when you bite down on that pill. It’s the basis of many a great song; it’s core business in country or pop.

While always rich with detail, Katie Crutchfield does something a little rarer: keeping you uncertain exactly where you’re standing – Is this hurt or love? And if so, is it self-inflicted or being inflicted elsewhere? Is this regret or disappointment? And if so, can it, should it, be contained? Is this manageable or unreachable? Or is all of it too complex to tell just yet? – while the song and her singing sound more at ease than concerned, more laid-back than agitated, and always beckoning.

Crutchfield as Waxahatchee (a band in theory; a solo project with useful friends in practice) is seven albums into a career that has, like Waxahatchee Creek in Alabama where she grew up, taken its own course and yet ended up feeling like it has reached where it was always meant to be.

Tigers Blood pulls on folk like a light jacket over her principal gear, the thin lightning sound of febrile country/rock. Well before the vaguely sea shanty title track closing the record or Crutchfield’s multiple voices lifting 365 into a Blue Ridge mountains yearning, there is the loping banjo of Right Back To It, tethered to a shuffling snare pattern and then subsumed beneath the voices of Crutchfield and MJ Lenderman which click in together like two parts of the one mould.

Shortly before Lone Star Lake recalls the bending vocals shapes and crisp night air of The Jayhawks, Burns Out At Midnight sees harmonica rising and falling, her voice leading with Lenderman now a light but firm echo, while Phil Cook’s dobro interchanges prominence with their acoustic and electric guitars, like vocalists exchanging verses in the round.

But then comes the rolling tumble of Bored, and Crutchfield frees her voice, pushes it harder in conjunction with Lenderman’s more nasally guitar probing, while Spencer Tweedy’s drums and Nick Bockrath’s pedal steel bounce back and forth between leading and following. Or Evil Spawn and Ice Cold which hover somewhere between Wilco and 1965 Dylan, toying with the frayed edges of gospel, chasing a vigorous pop muse and yet always verging on rumbling in the dirt.

Lyrically, Crutchfield traverses similarly indefinite areas. The album begins with her sore with both sadness and disappointment in a friend, and maybe herself. “You drive like you’re wanted in four states, in a busted truck in Opelika/Your bad reputation carries and I’m just like you”, she says, but knowledge is not foolproof: “I’m defenceless against the sales pitch/Am I your moat or your drawbridge?”

You might hear an echo of that in Crowbar, whose opening line is the chilly “I left your heart of glass in my unmade bed”, whose ending is the cold “your pride’ll take a gluttonous bite, a stupid question, I’d rather not ask it”, but whose ambivalence tugs at every stage.

Indeed, this album is not from an omniscient narrator or writer in control of all. “Reticent on the off chance/I’m blunter than a bullseye/Begging for peace of mind”, as she puts it in Right Back To It, Crutchfield says of herself in Ice Cold “I might fall in love with the next story told/But I’ll never have another burning hot coursing through me”.

It’s your call as much as hers as to whether that is a point of regret. Like Tigers Blood, the sweetness and the sourness never goes just one way.


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