by Jeffrey Echert
Though Tourist in This Town is Allison Crutchfield’s first full-length solo effort, she’s an old hand at the scene. Often with her twin sister Katie (best known for her work as the lead singer of Waxahatchee) in tow, the Birmingham, Alabama native has been slogging away dutifully in the DIY scene since her early teens as a member of the Ackleys, P.S. Eliot, Bad Bananas, and Swearin’. With this wealth of experience under her belt, the resulting solo album is a powerful debut. Seamlessly bringing together a number of genres and influences, it’s also a harrowing emotional gutpunch. This is an album whose opening track includes the words, “Our love is here to die.” And over the course of ten tracks and thirty-two minutes, that’s exactly what happens.
Tourist in This Town is, at its core, a breakup album. Written shortly after the end of a long-term relationship with Swearin’ co-founder Kyle Gilbride, the album is practically a narrative of the awkward, desperate attempts to try and deal with the pain while still working closely with the person at the center of it (Crutchfield and Gilbride continued to work and play together for some time after their breakup). But it’s also an album about wanderlust, about sleeping in shifts in communal spaces, and about the distances that separate people, both physical and emotional. Crutchfield’s lyrics are firmly planted in reality, vignettes taken from moments on tour or from brief respites in between, but they have a way of cutting to the quick with admirable celerity. Whether it’s a tense moment in a restaurant, interrupted by an unwitting waiter, or a quiet moment of loneliness in the middle of Paris, Crutchfield manages to find ways to channel both her pain and her inveterate unflappability into eminently quotable passages. But despite the odd bit of caustic recrimination, Tourist in This Town doesn’t feel angry. It’s a documentary of a trying time in Crutchfield’s life, and she’s more a dutiful journalist that a jilted lover. And there are moments of hope – penultimate track “Secret Lives and Deaths,” somewhat ominous title aside, finds Crutchfield crooning to a new beau. Even though she admits that she’s still grieving, vulnerable, and in pain, she tells him, “I like you, because you side with the sun.” It’s comforting to hear, after sharing in her loss, that she’s managed to find some rays of light.
Musically, the album shifts deftly from 80’s inspired synth pop to heavier, more driving punk rock influences to languid, country-inspired passages, often blending all three – lead single “Dean’s Room,” with its distorted drums and spine-vibrating bass, is a perfect example. Anchored by Crutchfield’s voice, which ranges from the southern Gothic siren song of Neko Case (evidenced best by sparse, lonesome track “Sightseeing”) to the more plaintive, earnest tones of Jenny Lewis. The latter’s influence can be seen all over this album – both Crutchfield and Lewis share a sharp tongue and little hesitation about using it, and both are adept at crossing musical lines without a hint of a stutter step. But despite a clear nod to Lewis, Crutchfield’s work never feels derivative – this is her story, and her album, and she occupies it fully and unapologetically.
Tourist in This Town is a breakup album that doesn’t feel bitter, or even regretful. It’s a snapshot of the life of a touring musician, with all the baggage that distance, collaboration, and ceaseless perambulation bring. Ultimately, Crutchfield has created a stunning vehicle for her own impressive voice.
Final Verdict: 8 out of 10.