An elegant folk self-portrait grounded in nature.
For his fourth solo release Valley Maker, aka Austin Crane, contemplates upheaval both personally and far beyond against the rhythms of the natural world. His abstract lyrics ebb and flow from a sparse folk to a pulsating indie rock vibe. ‘When The Day Leaves’ is a ruminative treasure hunt of detail both natural and emotional.
The story behind the album is Crane’s return from the Pacific northwest, where he and his wife had lived for a decade, back to his South Carolina birthplace. Apprehension is bound to surround change on that scale but Crane’s is heightened not just by the daunting prospect of renovating a very old house but the questions he has around the economic and racial divides of his old home. Why do it then we wonder? Because Crane is prepared to give people the benefit of the doubt, basing his hopeful outlook on his belief that the world is essentially a good place. He grounds himself with a profound connection with nature. Finding comparators is imprecise but there is a bit of Dylan, Neil Young and the sylvan tones of Fleet Foxes.
Vocals that swirls ethereally around an eerie flute to a sparkling acoustic stream ‘Branch I Bend’ introduces the listener to Crane’s world. “Contemplate the passing through/ All in a day’s work”. To an anxious beat ‘Pine Trees’ combines optimism that “I could live in any town” with childhood memories of “Running through pine trees/ I was a child in my mind”. The doubt in his voice appears to be testing Crane’s motivation.
Where he has no doubts is in the state of his country. There is nothing abstract about, “Fifty-eight dead in Las Vegas/ We’re hanging on now by a thread, baby”. Crane’s articulate musing to his precise acoustic picking explodes into a hard blast of rock. Amy Godwin’s harmonies amplify his anger. This flow boils over in ‘Line Erasing’, a loping and sonically looping condemnation of the past few years. Layers of instrumentation and harmonies add heft to his rejection of what passes for leadership with the horn sounding a kind of last post.
But in the end Crane clings to hope. The pace of the seasons and nature’s permanence bring all his cares into perspective. ‘Instrument’ has the grandeur of clouds sweeping across huge skies over the permanent earth. ‘Mockingbird’ in contrast, is a relaxed glide that just says slow down. At six minutes Crane is in no hurry, as he pulls the listener deeper into the solitude of his thoughts and nature.
Crane signs off with the title track and the one that most combines his world and natural views. He languorously fuses his contempt for the politicians with his love of the trees, the skies, the stars and the birds.
Parsing Crane’s lyrics with the precision of his sound is no easy task but even if there are some gaps the flowing sequence of ‘When The Day Leaves’ makes a fitting companion for uncertain times.