Home Jason's Jukebox Album reviews: Waxahatchee, Gary Clark Jr., Adrianne Lenker

Album reviews: Waxahatchee, Gary Clark Jr., Adrianne Lenker

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Waxahatchee / Tigers Blood (ANTI-)
In the first lines of the opening track on her sixth album as Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield sings, “I make a living crying, it ain’t fair,” a sentiment to which most artists can relate. It’s just one of many brief flashes of insight peppered throughout Tigers Blood, and a mode of expression Katie has perfected over the past decade in terms of combining pop sensibilities with a rough-edged folk-rock sound that’s capable of cutting through the modern music industry’s obsession with over-production. In that sense, Katie’s natural delivery—and her ability to meld that with her collaborators, notably the guitarist MJ Lenderman—makes her music the ideal soundtrack for struggling millennials and such a breath of fresh air for those of us a little older. Indeed, the songs on Tigers Blood flow by so breezily, Katie’s lyrics more often serve as a bread crumb trail leading the listener into the depths of her psyche. There aren’t any big choruses, and conversely no deep confessions. Even on a subtly emotional track like “Crimes Of The Heart,” on which she declares, “If you’d left it to me, who knows where we would be,” there’s no hint of malice. This is just the way the world is, with the best way to deal with it being to turn it into something beautiful, as Katie does on the sparse but uplifting “365,” singing, “I had my own ideas, but I carried you on my shoulders anyways.” There’s no doubt that Tigers Blood is beautiful, and also no doubt that it elevates Katie to the status of one of the most important singer-songwriters currently crying for a living.

Gary Clark Jr. / JPEG Raw (Warner)
Having arrived on the scene fully prepared to take up the mantle of Texas guitar heroes from Freddie King and Albert Collins to Billy Gibbons and the Vaughan brothers, Gary Clark Jr. faced some serious pressure to live up to those expectations. But even on his initial burst of major-label releases starting with 2012’s Blak And Blu, it was clear he wasn’t comfortable being labelled a blues artist. Then on 2019’s This Land, Guy’s true self finally started to emerge, with the title track presenting a scathing indictment of racism in America. That persona feels fully formed on JPEG Raw, a densely powerful collection that continues to push for a renewed level of Black consciousness in modern rock and roll. To drive that point home, Clark was able to enlist help from Stevie Wonder and George Clinton, but also some of his contemporaries like Valerie June, adding up to a sonic smorgasbord with his guitar playing at the centre of it all. Although songs like “Triumph” and epic closer “Habits” offer clear messages of hope, JPEG Raw overall seems to suggest we’ve formally entered the “rock is the new jazz” era. So much of the album is built upon a forceful urgency, starting with the punishingly riff-heavy opener “Maktub,” that there’s a sense off the bat that Guy has possibly bitten off more than he can chew. But it’s a credit to his musical acumen that he’s able to get the alchemy right for the most part on what amounts to his most ambitious and successful project to date.

Adrianne Lenker / Bright Future (4AD)
Adrianne Lenker has risen to international fame as co-leader of Big Thief, a polarizing band for some in terms of their unconventional approach to folk-rock, and emphasis on injecting their songs with “big feelings” rather than universal truths or social observations. Adrianne has been the lightning rod for most of the detractors, despite possessing a voice that sounds haunted by a 19th Century poet. On her latest solo album, the counterbalance of stunning and cringe-inducing moments is still present, with the former represented by the exquisite “Sadness As A Gift” and “Free Treasure,” and the latter by the painfully personal opener “Real House” and the throwaway “Vampire Empire.” What can’t be denied is the power of Bright Future‘s intimacy—Adrianne’s voice is front and centre at all times, backed mainly by just acoustic guitars and sparse piano. And loving Bright Future likely hinges on a listener’s opinion of Adrianne’s voice, the timbre of which only alters when she reaches for falsetto. Of course, a lack of vocal range hasn’t stopped many great singer-songwriters, but unfortunately that continues to be a distraction with Adrianne’s music. Vulnerability needs to be delivered with conviction, something Adrianne has yet to master.

SONG OF THE WEEK
Willie Nelson / “The Border” (Sony Legacy)

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