Music Column: Waxahatchee and Kevin Morby encompass Molina's musical imprint

Music Column: Waxahatchee and Kevin Morby encompass Molina's musical imprint
Photo courtesy of Piti Suárez

Between Birmingham and Montgomery lies the Waxahatchee River. Twenty-two miles long, it constitutes the unsung border between Shelby and Chilton counties. A waterway typically provides jet-skiing and kayaking possibilities, but for Katie Crutchfield, known for her southern indie rock outfit Waxahatchee, it’s somewhat of a Walden Pond for relationships.

In 2011, Crutchfield found respite after a stint of tumultuous relationships at her parent’s home, located on Waxahatchee River, during an irregular snowstorm for the state of Alabama. This brief pause on life outside of Waxahatchee resulted in a collection of introspective songs about relationships and the loneliness that surrounds them, culminating in Crutchfield’s first album, “American Weekend,” which was released in 2012.

The album was self-produced in Crutchfield’s family home with sparse instrumentation, but that’s appropriate, as the lyrics provide a retrospective look at the landscape of past relationships. Most commonly, she writes that any breach of feelings or relationships result in self-loathing and pain. In 2017, Waxahatchee’s fourth album, “Out in the Storm,” was released. The album’s contents breathe with renewed light and energy, despite revolving around an exploration of how she grappled with the ending of a long relationship. 

Prior to the release of “Out in the Storm,” Crutchfield embarked on a tour with Kevin Morby, who also released his fourth album in 2017. “City Music” is an ode to all cities and the people that make a city worth celebrating. As the duo shared their vast wealth of musical preferences, one individual stood out as a vital influencer and a shared pinnacle figure of music writing: Jason Molina.

In January, Morby and Crutchfield released a pair of Molina covers, Song: Ohia’s “Farewell Transmission” and Magnolia Electric Co.’s “The Dark Don’t Hide It,” for MusiCares, a charity that provides support for musicians facing financial, medical and personal emergencies. 

Molina is the unsung hero and creator of the varied forms of folk and blues-infused rock that weave together slamming guitar chords with bittersweet reflections on the various forms of life. Molina released 16 full-length studio albums, eight EPs and various live albums under three monikers: Jason Molina, Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. In 2013, at 39 years old, Molina died after years of battling alcohol abuse.

As this news broke in 2013, current titans of songwriting with their own tempestuous, impassioned, styles, both musically and lyrically, expressed devastating amounts of grief. Molina’s music is an impetus for many, both musicians and those that consume it so fervently.

As an emboldened explorer of his own pain and the life-halting thoughts that consume him, Molina needed art, or music making, to grapple with his own meaning. In doing so, he allowed for others to do the same. He allowed for a beautifully crafted exploration of the dark, something that seeps its way into Crutchfield and Morby’s music. 

A year after Molina’s death, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and many, many other things, touched on his own experience with Molina’s music on NPR: “There was this beautiful darkness about the way he expressed himself, both lyrically and musically, that I think went right to the core of what people feel, you know, in an everyday way.”

Crutchfield and Morby operate in this same niche approach to songwriting, which has been welded by Molina in current music making. In both covers, Crutchfield and Morby’s voices web together into a symphony of sounds as they draw upon the words and ideas placed before them, but adding individual emphasis on words or verses of their choosing. 

Listen for yourself to truly experience, but especially listen to one verse in “Farewell Transmission” that encompasses Molina: “The real truth about it is my kind of life’s no better off if I’ve got the maps or if I’m lost.”

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