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Review: Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud Is Grounded in a Sure Sense of Place

The album is marked by songs that are at once deeply intimate and broadly accessible.

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Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud
Photo: Molly Matalon

Katie Crutchfield’s songs are personal, openhearted, and earnest, displaying keen pop sensibilities that starkly contrast the lo-fi sound of her work as Waxahatchee. With Saint Cloud, Crutchfield has at last formulated an approach that provides the ideal outlet for both her poetically confessional lyrics and her billowing, marbly voice. Adopting a free and easy Americana style marked by both twangy guitars and dreamy keys, the songs here are at once deeply intimate and broadly accessible, like selections from an alternative universe where modern mainstream country radio isn’t all pandering, homogenized slop.

Saint Cloud opens with the lilting, sublime “Oxbow.” On top of a silky combination of plaintive, bittersweet piano chords, bleeping electronics, and crackling drums, Crutchfield cycles through a small handful of unexpectedly swaggering melodic phrases that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Lorde song. The song’s only flaw is that it drifts away far too quickly. The delicately funky “Fire” likewise owes at least some of its DNA to the minimalist pop of Billie Eilish, while “Lilacs” is a pretty country-folk song with subtle psychedelic touches and a strutting, radio-ready chorus.

Even when sliding into conventional roots fare, though, Crutchfield and her band—currently featuring members of Detroit band Bonny Doon, along with in-demand indie-rock instrumentalist Josh Kaufman—work up an irresistibly comfortable groove that perfectly suits the singer’s buoyantly direct songs. “Can’t Do Much” is a classic honky-tonk love song, barreling ahead with a friendly twang as Crutchfield slides effortlessly in and out of her upper register. The freewheeling “War” is even more fun, sounding like something Steve Earle could have written in one of his more jovial moods.

Lyrically, Crutchfield covers typical singer-songwriter territory like relationship strife and the mistakes of the past—she reportedly wrote the album after getting sober—but rarely succumbs to cliché. On “Lilacs,” she sings, “And the lilacs drank the water/And the lilacs died,” which is some kind of zen poetry. The album is full of similarly aesthetic lines that feel almost subversive in the context of usually more plainspoken country and folk songs. “The Eye” is a rumination on the intersection of creativity and romance, featuring a string of unconventional metaphors like “A scientific cryptogram lit up behind a sunbeam.” But like great country songwriters do, Crutchfield grounds her songs in a definite sense of place—from famous city streets to rural creeks—that keeps their true-life origins in perspective.

Label: Merge Release Date: March 27, 2020 Buy: Amazon

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