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Review: Waxahatchee gives all growl, no bite in ‘Tigers Blood’

By Hannah Son     3/26/24 11:10pm

Stars: ★★★½

Top track: “Right Back to It”

Indie darling Waxahatchee first earned her country stripes on “Saint Cloud,” a resounding critical favorite of 2020. Her sixth studio album, “Tigers Blood,” fixes up new folktales of heartbreak in the same genre-defying signature. 

Waxahatchee, born Katie Crutchfield, shares credits on “Tigers Blood” with Brad Cook, producer of “Saint Cloud” and frequent collaborator with the likes of Bon Iver and Indigo de Souza. As Cook and Crutchfield play it safe in their alt-country twang, “Tigers Blood” lands like a tame imitation of the duo’s best work. 

“3 Sisters” opens with a whimper. Crutchfield weeps vague notes of “hopeless prayer” and “a busted truck in Opelika,” flirting with the motif of small-town ties. But planted in its looping melancholy and sappy piano, the track stalls. 

In “Evil Spawn” and “Ice Cold,” Crutchfield makes anthems out of her sharp lyricism. The marching beat of “Evil Spawn” emboldens verses like “you let me fill every room / wax poetic and presume.” The didactic countryside images of “Ice Cold” weave a playful melody from Crutchfield’s wails. Singing out “Jesus loves you,” Crutchfield calls upon billboard sightings and dwindling love as landmarks of Southern life. 

The heart of the album rests in its sweet duets, both featuring MJ Lenderman. Lead single “Right Back to It” is a clear standout. The track pairs warm, rich harmonies with a dancing banjo line and roots itself in the narrative and melodic voices of two lovers. “Burns Out At Midnight” continues to detail their goodbye, a flame dying to harmonica whispers and confessions like, “If my heart of stone weighs on you heavy, babe / Just hit the lights and call it a night.”

With rock instrumentals and fiery vocals, “Bored” teases Crutchfield’s distinct bite. But the shallow, whiny refrain of “I get bored” brings the track down. Lyrical lapses continue to eclipse the magnetic, conversational rhythms of “Lone Star Lake” and “Crimes of the Heart,” which stumbles in lines like “You play the villain like a violin.” 

In the last act, Crutchfield lets go, mourning and healing in the haunted scenes of Americana she paints. She embellishes “Crowbar” with yodeling flips but dawdles in the preceding tracks. Her raw vocals and the stripped-back guitar of “365” are flattened and drowned by overcorrected harmonies. Where she teases a “tension that’s telekinetic” and “poison arrow” in these songs, the singularity of these witchy references feels like a missed opportunity for the rest of the album.

By “The Wolves,” Crutchfield returns to her sorely missed range of tender, relaxed vocals. The string solos match her gentle lilts as she “throw[s]” herself “to the wolves.” Finally, with “Tigers Blood,” Crutchfield delivers the most assured moment of the album. Supported by Lenderman and a full-bodied band, she lingers in her soft echoes: “We were young for so long, seersuckers of time / Drank someone else's juice, left only the rind.”

Crutchfield holds back on spellbound worldbuilding in “Tigers Blood,” instead conjuring images of Alabama sun and bygone love in her folk tunes. Through her vocal embellishments and lyrical sensibilities, she proves she can pull off the alt-country sound with ease. But without the unrelenting sting of her last project, her signature twang rings flat. 

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