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Music Review: Waxahatchee's alt-country soars, finds joy in simple things on ‘Tigers Blood’

This image released by ANTI Records shows "Tigers Blood" by Waxahatchee. (ANTI Records via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The indie artist Waxahatchee, known for her gut-wrenching alt-country, demonstrates mastery of her craft on her sixth studio album, “Tigers Blood.”

The Alabama-raised singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield started her Waxahatchee project in 2010, following many years on the road with power pop-punk bands P.S. Eliot and Bad Banana. Those scrappy lo-fi days are long behind her: “Tigers Blood” is the work of a new kind of artist, and a natural progression from 2020’s “Saint Cloud,” the record that broke through to a much larger audience. It also received critical acclaim, extending beyond the indie appreciation of her previous work, cementing her as a leading voice in contemporary Americana.

Waxahatchee albums are most effective when the most reflect everyday realities. “Tigers Blood,” exudes a kind of contentment, an artist who is wiser and more reflective than before. Take the track, “Evil Spawn” as an example. Atop ascending riffs, Crutchfield sings, “What you thought was enough now seems insane.” Similarly, on the country dream “Lone Star Lake,” Crutchfield sings about driving to a lake and sleeping all day.

The simple joys of this album differ from her previous work. Gone are tortured emotions and self-doubt communicated through distorted riffs and indie rock sensibilities (a quick listen to 2017’s “Out of the Storm” reveals a different musician — until her twang emerges in hushed harmonies, like on the song “8 Ball.”)

It’s almost a lifetime away from the innocence of the title track “Tigers Blood,” where Crutchfield sings about summertime, childhood and “tigers blood,” a flavor of snow cone, atop banjo and electric slide guitar. “You’re laughing and smiling, drove my jeep through the mud/Your teeth and your tongue bright red from tigers blood/We were young for so long, seersuckers of time,” Crutchfield sings, full of nostalgia without being sappy.

In recent years, many indie rock artists have been leaning into folk and country influences, but those sounds have long been at the heart of Crutchfield’s work — she’s distinguished herself through her poignant lyrics sung through an ever-present twang, never shying away from her Southern roots — and an admiration for Lucinda Williams. It also appears on her side project, Plains, a duo with the Texan artist Jess Williamson. That ability to meld genre is a powerful force on “Tigers Blood,” where traditional country instruments like Dobro and harmonica co-exist with indie rock arrangements.

The song “Bored” is somewhat reminiscent to earlier Waxahatchee work, with its animated chorus — now with pedal steel.

Then there’s the lead single, “Right Back to It,” which features guitarist MJ Lenderman (of the indie rock band Wednesday, whose 2023 album “Rat Saw God” landed a spot on one of AP’s best of 2023. Lenderman appears on a few “Tigers Blood” tracks.) It’s the best of both worlds – an Americana song that pushes and pulls between country and indie rock – but settles somewhere in the middle, a reflection of the song’s lyrics. It’s about easing into the later years of a steady and reliable relationship. “Let my mind run wild/I don’t know why I do it/But you just settle in/Like a song with no end,” the pair sing.

It doubles as a thesis statement for the record: it’s a rootsy love letter to her chosen genres, to finding contentment and an artistic evolution.

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AP music reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/music-reviews