Waxahatchee, “Saint Cloud” (Merge)

Katie Crutchfield takes her stage name from a creek that runs near where she and her twin sister, Allison, grew up in Birmingham, Ala.After the 2017 breakup album “Out in the Storm,” Crutchfield moved from Philadelphia back to Alabama, then to Kansas City, where she now lives.

That geographical shift is crucial to the emotionally direct “Saint Cloud,” which makes Crutchfield’s more diffuse previous work seem guarded by comparison. Here she carries forth with a clear head, facing hard truths. Musically, she connects to a Southern vernacular, using Lucinda Williams’ “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” as a touchstone.

Crutchfield’s music comes alive in songs that score direct hits rather than skirting the edges. On “Fire,” she sings, “I’m wiser and slower and attuned.” She’s unhurried and self-possessed throughout, without simplifying the struggle. “I’m at war with myself,” she sings in “War.” “It’s got nothing to do with you.”

Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer

M.Ward, “Migration Stories” (Anti)

Ward has had a long solo career but may be better known for his collaborations: as one of the Monsters of Folk with Jim James and Conor Oberst, and in She & Him with Zooey Deschanel. He’s an expert folk guitarist and an engagingly laconic vocalist.

“Migration Stories,” his 10th solo album, is steeped in the sounds of the 1950s. Its cover of “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” a song popularized by the Sons of the Pioneers, is an explicit nod to the era. And Ward has filled out the album with tunes of his own that gently lope on fingerpicked guitars, often draped in ghostly reverb.

The mood is sleepy, which is appropriate for songs full of nighttime skies, dreams and communications with the dead. “Migration Stories” finds comfort in evoking the past.

Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer

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