Watch the City Mutate: Waxahatchee's Storytelling
By Kelly Dearmore
As a storyteller, Katie Crutchfield has always made things personal. People and places populate her songs - especially the latter. For example, Katie’s musical moniker is taken from Alabama’s Waxahatchee Creek, near where she grew up. That influential waterway also shows up in “Ruby Falls” from Saint Cloud, in which it’s noted as a special resting place for the dearly departed. As the following selections demonstrate, a spin through Waxahatchee’s catalog is like spinning a globe.
Magic City Wholesale
The specificity of this American Weekend cut’s opening lines screams out just how powerful a specific moment in a specific spot can be. Magic City isn’t an actual town, but sitting there on the store’s porch, drinking from a keg in the autumn breeze, Crutchfield dreams about a city full of flats and cul-de-sacs and how she’s “met people from Maine and Athens, Georgia and Montreal.” If that’s not enough of a trip around North America, Magic City Wholesale is the name of a car dealer in Minot, North Dakota.
“Rose, 1956” is set on Christmas Eve, and its delicacy is, appropriately, both warming and chilling. Family roots run deep, and we get a glimpse into the Crutchfield clan’s history in this heartbreaking ode to Katie’s grandmother, Rose. When she delicately sings, “Now I hide out from telephone wires at Waxahatchee Creek / Your body, weak from smoke and tar and subsequent disease / You got married when you were 15,” we’re provided with a striking example of how familial history and geography are inextricable.
Upon the release of 2017’s Out in the Storm, Crutchfield revealed to NPR that “Sparks Fly” was her favorite cut from the album. That much makes sense when you hear her sing a stanza like, “Float on my back, watch the purple sky / In the last moments of sunlight / I know you don't recognize me / But I'm a live wire, finally.” Katie said the song is about a wild night her and her twin sister/former P.S. Eliot bandmate, Allison, shared in Berlin. Closer to home for both, central Alabama’s “choppy and wild” Coosa River is also conjured.
This gorgeously meandering Saint Cloud selection takes its name from Arkadelphia Road in Katie’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, and the thoroughfare is a backdrop for a heartbreaking story of addiction. Crutchfield’s aching empathy for a struggling friend is palpable when she sings, “I couldn't cry, I just pick up the load / And feign a strength, try to force your hand / But you leave a promise wherever it may land.” Such lyrical depth is part of what makes Saint Cloud one of 2020’s best.