6 Apr 2024

Review: Tigers Blood by Waxahatchee

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 6 April 2024

Photo: Bandcamp

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

When I was younger I really disliked country music. But like a lot of things in life, once I’d ingested more of it I came to understand it better. This year I’ve reviewed several artists dabbling in this territory - Hurray For the Riff Raff, Adrianne Lenker, and Pony Baby from NZ - and thoroughly enjoyed them all. 

American musician Waxahatchee has just released her sixth solo LP, on which she sounds like someone with a deep familiarity and affection for past greats who’ve tackled the form.

That’s M J Lenderman adding backing vocals to ‘Right Back to It’. He’s an artist with a similar interest in twang, albeit with a bit more distortion. And Katie Krutchfield, the musician behind the Waxahatchee moniker, used to lean that way too.

Listen to her record Out in the Storm from 2017, or any of the ones prior, and you’ll hear similarly anthemic song structures, but an aesthetic that’s more informed by power-pop or grunge.

You can hear it still around the edges of tracks like ‘Bored’.

Meanwhile on ballads like ‘365’, there’s an embrace of pure Americana. Crutchfield often forms close harmonies with the layering of her voice - that’s when a second vocal line sings a similar melody within a narrow musical range - and the effect instantly recalls decades of countrified crooners. 

She was born in Alabama, near Waxahatchee Creek. According to her bio she took the name and skipped town. On the cover of Tigers Blood she’s wearing plaid, and a cap, near a pickup truck and a neon sign that might be for a bar, or maybe a trailer park.

These are broad genre signifiers, and it's worth noting her audience doubled after she embraced country on her last album Saint Cloud. She credits producer Brad Cook for leading her songs in this direction. 

But listening to Tigers Blood it seems like a foregone conclusion she’d wind up here; the approach fits perfectly. There’s also the occasional nod to working-class sentiment, as on ‘The Wolves’ when she sings “There's a lock on the door that costs more than my car, babe/ And I ain't ever come close to crossing that threshold anyway”.

I’m not sure what threshold she’s alluding to, but the chorus line “If I throw myself to the wolves I did it all for the glory” possibly hints at an interest in artistic rewards over financial ones.

There’s another one on opening track ‘Three Sisters’ that says “I make a living crying” that seems like a bit of self-awareness, but Waxahatchee’s songs on Tigers Blood usually feel more defiant, or celebratory, than sad.

The album's title alludes to a berry-flavoured snow cone, but removes the apostrophe from ‘Tiger’s’, a detail which confuses me, but feels fitting.