Waxahatchee – Tigers Blood: Review

Artwork for Waxahatchee's 2024 album Tigers Blood

Undoubtedly Waxahatchee’s most accomplished and confident album yet.

The world of country music must be a pretty confusing one to live in at times.

Arguably in more robust popular health than ever, 2023 found it vacillating between serving as a proxy for the kind of views found in watchers of Fox News (Jason Aldean’s Try That In A Small Town) and the niggling whiff of appropriation via Luke Combs’ versioning of Tracy Chapman’s epic ballad Fast Car.

More than one headline saw the dichotomy and talked earnestly about a perceived battle for the movement’s soul, and all that was well ahead of Beyoncé announcement that the latest chapter of her Renaissance trilogy Act II would have a distinctly country angle to it. Who all here knows the truth?

For Katie Crutchfield, the worry of whether or not she’ll play the Superbowl half-time show is still off on the horizon even if, as she recently stated, her 2020 album Saint Cloud doubled her listening base, one painstakingly built up over her previous four releases as Waxahatchee.

Recorded after getting sober, there was also the emotional umbrella of being in a relationship with fellow singer-songwriter Kevin Morby, one which is still in good health and, when dealt with in the here and now on Tigers Blood via tracks such as Lone Star Lake, each revealing a life which is stable and which must seem to others, ‘Mundane on the outside’, or less apologetically, Waxahatchee says, ‘Fucking boring’.

Relative success offers choices, thus on 365 – of which the finished article is little more than a guitar strum and Waxahatchee’s extraordinary, in-the-roots voice – began more experimentally with producer Brad Cook throwing in some drum programming, even a synthesiser.

Crutchfield as a result saw through the looking glass, into the pop world where the likes of Kacey Musgraves have made their billion-streaming dominion, only after reflection to pull back to what she knows best.

Tigers Blood confirms Waxahatchee’s instincts were correct, and the outcome is a record more indebted to country as a concept than necessarily as a form, one that retains the vibe of boygenius’ indie whilst at the same time fostering the sort of gas stations and barbecues authenticity that Brandon Flowers would kill for.

Using this gift of being able to connect with more than one audience may be a nod to the fact that it’s bigger and by definition now trying to get many different things from her music.

To illustrate this, the gently shuffling ennui of Evil Spawn, on which Waxahatchee finishes harking back to, ‘The final act of the good ole days’, leans into a small on-campus vibe, whilst the closing title-track is a strung out waltz with a choral peak that comes from whatever you imagine America’s post-modern bible belt looks like.

Other treasures are less hidden – Ice Cold’s winding jukebox lilt, Crimes Of The Heart’s underplayed slide – but in tandem with Southern indie-rock wunderkind MJ Lenderman, the banjo-toting Right Back To It is the album’s essence, a disarmingly simple duet that’s also for Waxahatchee the first true love song ever consciously attempted.

Made content by a personal life with a discernible bedrock, there seems to be at present no doubt in Katie Crutchfield’s mind about where she’s going.

And if there’s a battle for the soul of country music going on somewhere, it isn’t reflected on Tigers Blood, which is undoubtedly Waxahatchee’s most accomplished and confident album yet.

Now try making this kind of record with a small mind.

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