Valley Maker is the project of Seattle-based songwriter Austin Crane. On Rhododendron, taking inspiration from the likes of Gillian Welch, Bill Fay and Jason Molina, he sings about moving from one thing, place or belief to another. With all this movement, however, comes a firm-footed reassurance that he’s not going anywhere. LP and CD on French Kiss.
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What’s all this, then, a press release that name-checks Bill Fay in the obligatory ‘influences’ section? I’ll take that; I’ll take all of that. Valley Maker is the recording project of Austin Crane and his band, and it sounds instantly familiar, an uncanny collation of slick, electrified Americana guided by the broken light of dusk. It’s uncanny largely because of Crane’s voice, which fits with some immediacy into the canon of folk rock singer guys, echoing the cooing warble of Elliot Smith, Ryan Adams and quite simply a Bunch of Other Dudes.
The music him and his company make is really nice, so no shade on that. “A Couple of Days” is an opener that works towards atmospheres dour and breezy, recalling ‘Didn’t It Rain’-era Molina but making it a little more active sounding. Utilising pulsing beatwork and spindly acoustic guitar, “Light on the Ground” fosters the open-ended recording techniques of S. Carey, suggesting this sparse sound can be expansive and textured at the same time. “Rise Up” is a mid-tempo tune played with stagnating strums and gorgeous, old-school keyboards, echoing the sentimental swagger of Okkervil River. Crane casts his net wide but always comes up with something pretty, and though the record lives large in the slow lane -- its centerpiece, “Seven Signs”, is a lovely slice of Americana slowcore -- it never feels boring or insular, instead coming out and bringing you in.
When you’ve got a good arranging arm and a good songwriting arm records like this happen. Nothing intrudes on anything else and Crane gets his space to sing his songs: it’s an added plus when you get the whining riffs and background debris ambience of tunes like “Baby, In Your Kingdom”. You’d have to listen close to work out how it’s all interacting, because ‘Rhododendron’ foregrounds the central tenant of country rock: a commanding voice with a clear story to tell.
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- Rhododendron by Valley Maker
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