Waxahatchee has been leaning steadily more country with each successive release since 2020’s Saint Cloud. And whether you count the 2022 collaboration of Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson, (which was under the artist name Plains) as Waxahatchee canon or not, it was certainly a giant leap into the country realm.
Crutchfield has come a long way since PS Elliott and a long way from her first album under the Waxahatchee moniker, 2012’s American Weekend.
But the newest single, a preview of an album featuring MJ Lenderman (of Wednesday and Indigo de Souza fame) shows a maturity in sound which surpasses the country elements of Plains but also somehow reels them back from the edge of the genre and reinforces the folk-punk cadence which made Waxahatchee while building a new foundation upon the melancholy of 90s pop-country.
Crutchfield hasn’t been shy about her admiration for the country tunes of yesteryear and has been known to plug Lucínda Williams covers into her live sets. But still, fans of her original work may find the genre change a bit jarring.
If you place the new single “Right Back to It” next to something like “Recite Remorse” from 2017 or “Coast to Coast” from 2015 there’s a stark difference which some may not be a fan of.
But if a listener can take “Right Back to It” as what it is and see the promise of songwriting and use of melody that it previews for the upcoming album, Tigers Blood, then a listener can see it as the personal achievement that it is.
A melodic tribute to the other female rebels of past decades. Punk pays tribute to its Kathleen Hannas and Courtney Loves, but it often neglects the nuanced feminism of country western.
Perhaps because in essence it sought to stand apart from that genre. As Country views itself a bastion of American values, and punk sees itself as being counter to those values the two seem incompatible. Or perhaps simply because it was a chart dominating pop force in the 80s and 90s and thus was antithetical to that other punk rock ethos, at the time.
But Country has a multitude of unsung strong female characters. Waxahatchee’s new release may be a signal to that and thus to a maturity in the folk-punk genre to recognize its lesser celebrated inspirations with the unabashed brevity which they always deserved.
And while the heavy genres are happy to acknowledge and support female voices today that wasn’t always the case. In fact Country has been more female fore-runners and chart toppers than punk in the past.
We will have to wait for the full album release on March 22 to know exactly which direction Crutchfield plans to take us.