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Anybody familiar with Katie Crutchfield’s last record could have predicted that she’d have some serious healing to do on the follow-up. Out in the Storm was a noisy, aggressive exposed-nerve of an album, one wrought with trauma, and the typically relentless touring schedule that followed served as an extended process of bloodletting. At the end of it, in the summer of 2018, Crutchfield embraced sobriety.
It was a decision that set her up for a series of homecomings on Saint Cloud, her fifth record as Waxahatchee. With drink and drugs eschewed, she’s returned to the clear-eyed outlook of her teens, and to the musical landscape that defined her upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama. The influence of country giants like Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt hangs heavy over the album, but Lucinda Williams is the most significant reference point; not just in terms of the bright and breezy Americana of the tracks, but in the way she evokes Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by painting such vivid portraits of her travels across America. There’s late-night drives across the Midwest on ‘Fire’, reckonings with their past in her hometown on ‘Arkadelphia’ and a nod to her father’s Florida heritage on the title track.
Producer Brad Cook was Crutchfield’s primary collaborator on Saint Cloud, but the real masterstroke was recruiting Detroit group Bonny Doon as her backing band – they bring such nuanced lightness of touch to the tracks.
The tumult and churn of Out in the Storm must now feel worth it: this stunningly pretty ode to recovery is Crutchfield’s finest work, and possibly her masterpiece.