For this week’s new music reviews, I’m looking at two Americana releases from early 2020. Both are in the zone where folk and country intersect, as previously explored by Gillian Welch and Townes Van Zandt. Both are fifth albums, from artists now in their thirties.
Alabama’s Katie Crutchfield hasn’t always been an Americana artist – she’s a talented young artist who’s able to switch genres. Her previous record, 2017’s Out in the Storm, was a furious album of cathartic guitar rock, recorded after heartache. Giving up alcohol and moving to Kansas City to join boyfriend Kevin Morby, Crutchfield reconnected with the country music that she rejected in her teens.
Crutchfield told The Guardian that she was influenced by artists like Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris in making Saint Cloud. Crutchfield has grown up through her music – Saint Cloud is her fifth solo album, but the first album she’s recorded in her thirties, and it reflects a new maturity and calm. She told Pitchfork that “I started to reject the idea that you have to live your life clumsily and be a big mess to write anything that’s exciting or interesting”.
Crutchfield’s imagery is straightforward and effective, and the folk-country arrangements are pretty with shimmering acoustic guitars and double-tracked lead vocals. Crutchfield’s voice has an emotional warble, and melodies like ‘Ruby Falls’ recall Gillian Welch’s work.
Although most of Saint Cloud is mellow and introspective, some of the best songs are upbeat. Crutchfield described ‘Hell’ to Pitchfork as “a little bit psycho”, but it’s based around a joyful acoustic strum, while ‘Can’t Do Much’ is straightforward and lovely.
Saint Cloud is strong all the way through, but some of the most significant songs are saved for the end. The beautiful ‘Ruby Falls’ is written about a friend who passed from a drug overdose, while the almost title track, ‘St. Cloud’, is sparse and unvarnished, a lovely conclusion.
Saint Cloud is a beautiful, timeless record that brings personality to a well-trodden genre.
Like Katie Crutchfield, John Moreland wasn’t always an Americana artist – he grew up playing in hardcore bands. When he started his career as a solo artist, he played music inspired by the country-folk of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. As its title implies, LP5 is Moreland’s fifth album.
The production, from Centro-matic drummer Matt Pence is crisp, and the musicianship is lovely. Moreland is an accomplished guitarist – there’s gorgeous guitar picking on ‘In Times Between’ – and there’s an unexpected Stevie Wonder-esque clavinet solo on ‘A Thought Is Just A Passing Train’. Between his deep, gravelly voice and literate lyrics, Moreland’s often reminiscent of Springsteen’s acoustic material.
Moreland’s often circumspect, and the most memorable songs are the morose pieces like ‘I Always Let You Burn You To The Ground’ and ‘Fever Breaks’. The instrumental ‘For Inchiro’ is also lovely, and perhaps an interesting avenue for Moreland to explore where he’s not constrained by his vocal limitations.
I have my doubts about John Moreland’s stylistic range, but LP5 is a lovely record, full of thoughtful words and pretty arrangements.
Thanks for Paul at https://mikeandpaulsmusicblog.com/ for the tip on this record.
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I’ve been enjoying that Waxahatchee album but have never dipped my toes in Moreland’s music.
I do think the Waxahatchee one is stronger. I like the Moreland album, but I don’t know if I need to hear any more of his records.
Katie Crutchfield… I like it when someone from the rock/folk/pop world crosses over to country. I like it because they bring that element to it. This sounds really good. Her voice is lovely and she doesn’t have that twang…which is a good thing.
I like the song you featured on John Moreland but I had to hear ‘A Thought Is Just A Passing Train”…you mention clavinet and I’m there. That comes out of left field a bit but I love it…sounds really good.
Songs with clavinet would be a cool list – although I struggle to think of many after Stevie Wonder, John Paul Jones, and Garth Hudson.
That would be a cool post…I just had to do a quick search…there is more than I thought…bigger hits…Life in the Fast Lane…I never thought about that one.
There’s a list on Wikipedia too. I forgot about Christine McVie on ‘You Make Loving Fun’, which I wrote about recently.
I don’t recall previously hearing any music from these two artists. Spontaneously, I like both tunes, with a slight preference for Crutchfield. Over the past few years, I’ve definitely developed more of an appreciation for Americana and country-oriented music.
I’ve covered a few this year – Katie Pruitt’s debut is my favourite Americana album that I’ve reviewed. Did you know that politics pretty much comes hand in hand with the country/Americana genre divide. Country artists are usually right wing and Americana are usually left (Jason Isbell is a very outspoken Alabaman).
Straightforward + lovely describes ‘Can’t Do Much’ nicely!
I heard Katie a while back and meant to give her more time. I guess the time is right. The Moreland is good.
Have you heard Moreland’s other stuff?
No unless it was in passing and didnt connect the name.