Waxahatchee and the South in Modern Rock Music: Part 2

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In Part 1 I wrote that “A new Southern sensibility has arisen with roots not only in Hank, and Muscle Shoals, but also in Southern Gothic literature and folk art. A cross-disciplinary renaissance in Alabama arts and design which has captured imaginations far beyond the Alabama state line.”

This new crop of Alabama musicians, many of them millennials, has extended the rural to the suburban. Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell (a former Drive-By Truckers member) and Waxahatchee are reinterpreting, not duplicating, the music of their forbearers. They understand that the “life that supports” today’s musical forms in the South has changed, and thus the forms must change.

Which brings us to Waxahatchee.

The name refers not to a band, but a project. Popular with millennial artists, the project – an ephemeral collaborative effort lead by a single musician – has replaced the band as the personnel organization of choice.

Waxahatchee’s leader is Alabama singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield. It’s named after Waxahatchee Creek, in Alabama. Their latest album is Cerulean Salt, recorded in Crutchfield’s basement and released on a Philadelphia record label.

Cerulean’s minimalist sound is both traditional and modern. Its Southerness is mostly subtle, not obvious. This is typical for the post-Trucker artists noted above.

This is not a calculating artist. Ambitious? Yes. An underlying design? Yes. But no Mouseketeer past being parlayed into mass adulation. No cynically selfied public/private manufactured depravity aimed at boosting twitter followers.

Instead, a heart bruised and healed, still open to feeling. Not the hard glossy sound we’re used to, but a supple, handmade sound.

And (at last!), a closing of the multi-decade gender lag in rock and roll. Women players now take to their basements and woodshed as their men counterparts have since the 1920s. No longer are they an anomaly, as Mary Ford was in the 1950s, or even Patti Smith was in the 1970s.

Assertive women players now dominate the charts and are the driving creative force in today’s popular music.

And these women and all the New Southern artists are indeed discovering that “in dejection lives a connection.” That by rejecting the reductivist accounts of their culture by outsiders, by interrogating their region’s past on their own terms, they build a new community of vital creators.

New forms for new times.


© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013

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