Liner Notes: Saint Cloud+3 by Waxahatchee

Olive Amdur ’23

Waxahatchee’s fifth studio album, Saint Cloud, came out late last March, just a few weeks after Covid was declared a global pandemic and the first round of lockdowns settled in across the country. It was a strange and difficult time to release music, I imagine, but the album showed up on my Spotify Release Radar one slow quarantine morning and I listened to it on repeat for months. Back home unexpectedly in my childhood bedroom, in a spring with little of the light, blooming hope that makes spring so special, Saint Cloud’s songs of nostalgia and need, of skylines and scorched earth, reminded me what renewal felt like. 

Katie Crutchfield founded Waxahatchee in 2010, after playing with her twin sister for three years in a band called P. S. Eliot. Waxahatchee’s early albums—American WeekendCerulean Salt—are largely solo projects, but over time her work grew and changed, and Crutchfield now plays with a backing band. The Saint Cloud band features Nick Kinsey, who plays with Kevin Morby (Katie Crutchfield’s partner—see below for cute note about this) and in the solo project KINSEY, Bobby Colombo and Bill Lennox of Bonny Doon, and Josh Kaufman of Bonny Light Horseman. Brad Cook, who has led production for Bon Iver, Kevin Morby, and the War on Drugs, produced the album. There are lots of people and instruments involved, yet the album is soft, quiet, rich, and steady: consistent with the sound at Waxahatchee’s—and Crutchfield’s—core. 

“If I could love you unconditionally / I could iron out the edges of the darkest sky,” Crutchfield sings in “Fire,” maybe my favorite and one of the first tracks I heard from the album.  She wrote the lyrics on a long drive, watching the sun settle and waver over West Memphis, and sings about The album is about many different sorts of love: love for places and people, for work and for the self, for ends and beginnings. In “Ruby Falls,” she sings, “I walk down East 7th street / A wistful, wild depravity / Iconoclastic, black and white, dusty and sweet,” and in St. Cloud, “Watch the new world project / A rousing image, scorched earth swinging.” These are songs written about addiction and recovery, as Crutchfield describes in an interview with Rolling Stone and as is visible in the tension of returning order and clarity woven through the lyrics. She says in that interview, “It’s a really personal thing, sobriety. I feel like myself again.” Every song on the album has this energy of return. 

Just couple of weeks ago, a year after the initial release, Waxahatchee released Saint Cloud+3, a reissue of the album with three cover tracks: Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labor,” Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.” Though restaurants, bars, stores, and even a few music venues are open again after nearly a year, where I am in New York at least, it is still a strange and difficult time to release music. I’ve been listening to them often since they came out, still in quarantine with my parents in the house where I grew up, and in this time where days feel both different and not than they did a year ago, the new tracks have been, like the first album was, a source of comfort and forward motion: of forward-looking.

They are songs, like those on the original album, filled with the language of recovery; in this national moment, and in the ways the pandemic has taken root in each of our individual lives, they feel even more prescient. Bruce Springsteen’s song, written for one of the first mainstream films about the HIV/AIDS crisis, reminds us of the pain and ambient grief that this year has held, while Lucinda Williams’ lyrics draw us towards the relief of a new beginning in the west, in a world of lemon trees, lavender, sugarcane, and all the fresh pieces of an imagined spring. Dolly Parton’s song captures the freedom of a new day’s sunrise, and, knowing now about her investments in the efforts to develop the Covid vaccines, her reassurances that, “Everything’s gonna be okay” feel truer—more persuasive. I was vaccinated last week, unexpectedly and excitingly, and I really do feel those lyrics persuasive. Waxahatchee’s recording of these extra tracks, on an album already oriented around processes of recovery, allow us to imagine ways we are, will, or want to make our way out of this year. That’s how I’m holding them, at least.

Katie Crutchfield says in that same interview with Rolling Stone that she wanted, creating Saint Cloud, to step into the force of all the powerhouse country women she’d grown up listening to. Though we can hear this inspiration in the distinct, new tone of the initial eleven songs on the album, Saint Cloud+3 allows Crutchfield, and Waxahatchee as a group, to step into the music of these women in a full and physical way: to take these songs of inspiration and rewrite them in the group’s voice. This is itself an act of renewal, recovery, and reclamation.

The album is named for Crutchfield’s father’s hometown: St. Cloud, Florida. Over the course of this past year, one of the most difficult in so many different ways, Waxahatchee has created on their album, in the name of that town, music that, guided by Crutchfield’s step into her own power, has allowed movement forward—towards spring—through the tension and tumult. Though I am, hopefully, leaving my hometown soon and returning to school in the Massachusetts town I’m learning to think of as a different sort of home, I’ll hold close, like Crutchfield does in the music on Saint Cloud, the home that I’ve had for this past year and the ones to come: the places and people I’ve been or been to and those I will. 

(Aforementioned cute note about “Can’t Do Much,” the second track on Saint Cloud)

Sources:
1. “Katie Crutchfield’s New Morning,” from Rolling Stone, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/waxahatchee-saint-cloud-interview-940483/
2. “Dolly Parton Donations Helped In Developing Coronavirus Vaccine,” from NPR, https://www.npr.org/2020/11/18/936342881/dolly-parton-donations-helped-in-developing-coronavirus-vaccine

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