Waxahatchee - Great Thunder

by Mark Moody Rating:9 Release Date:2018-09-07
Waxahatchee - Great Thunder
Waxahatchee - Great Thunder

One of the last times I saw Waxahatchee perform, the woman behind the title, Katie Crutchfield closed out the set solo with an acoustic guitar.  When she proclaimed “Mississippi, I’m alone in the alley”, I was scrambling to place the song.  An obscure cover, a new song, an early album cut I missed somehow, a side project I didn’t know of?  Given none of the words in the song relate to its title it took me a bit, but I finally discovered earlier side project, Great Thunder, and the interestingly titled album Groovy Kind of Love.  The album is a 30 track, hour and a half long affair with Crutchfield and musical partner at the time, Keith Spencer, with Spencer’s songs dominating most of the space.  With numerous side projects and offshoots, including P.S. Eliot, The Ackleys, and twin sister Allison’s Swearin’ and own solo albums, the Crutchfield family tree plots out a little more like fast growing kudzu vine.  So it can get a bit tough to track things down with that prolific pair.      

The song I heard that night was ‘Chapel of Pines’ and it’s the 24th (!) track on Groovy Kind of Love.  Given the second song of the album was over ten minutes long and not quite like ‘Chapel of Pines’, you could be forgiven for not making it that far into the album.  With Spencer’s songs a bit of a challenge to enjoy, with titles like ‘Ladysmith’s Breaking Point’ and ‘I Love You So Much, I Could Kill Myself Because I Hate My Parents’, you might have missed Crutchfield’s diamonds in the rough.  I suppose the kindest thing to say about the whole of Groovy Kind of Love is that cream finds a way to float to the top.  On Crutchfield’s latest release, Great Thunder, she airlifts four songs from Groovy Kind of Love along with two other of the prior project’s tracks.  As an unadorned six-song, seventeen minute EP, Great Thunder, is the antithesis of its source, but it doesn’t take Crutchfield much time or clatter to get the listener’s attention.  

‘Chapel of Pines’ is the clear centerpiece here, but the simple piano and bass of opening ‘Singers, No Star’ wipes away prior layers of fuzz.  Without that or a backing band, Crutchfield’s voice becomes the primary instrument over the course of the EP.  Whether drawing out a line to dramatic effect or letting her emotion power the song, the songs benefit from five-plus years of the performer’s life.  The “shoop be doop” chorus echoing Cat Power’s ‘American Flag’ contrasts well with the pathos of a line Crutchfield gets behind:  “It’s not the ending that’s the tragic part”.  The banjo on ‘You’re Welcome’ adds to the song’s starkness and highlights the chill of lines like “mothers pray for padlocks on their doors.”  While on ‘Chapel of Pines’ the simply strummed melody takes the song through one verse to a repeated phrase, here updated in part from the concern of “Would you go?” to the darker uncertainty of whether “Will you go?” is a fear or a wish.

The EP closes with two of its strongest tracks, though it’s hard to pick favorites here.  ‘Slow You Down’ has the quickest tempo and comes closest to the sound of last year’s Out In The Storm.  Bolstered by harmonies, it still retains the sparer overall sound.  The closer ‘Takes So Much’ stands out from its earlier edition given the emotional toll on Crutchfield’s voice.  Here her life’s experience in commanding “take it out on me baby”, speaks not as an idea but from the knowledge of having been there.  As direct and powerful as last year’s album was, Great Thunder shows us yet another of Crutchfield’s many faceted sides.  Clearing the scattered underbrush away from the seeds of these songs has allowed them to fully flower at the hand of their creator.  It's clear that great effort went into the nurturing of these songs, we just get to marvel at the bouquet.

  

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