There aren’t many artists I find who can conjure up a cavalcade of emotions simply from their voice, but listening to Valley Maker‘s new album When the Day Leaves, his casual gravitas creates a soulful contrast to the beatific Americana arrangements. Like Bob Dylan and Conor Oberst, Valley Maker‘s Austin Crane paints elegant, abstract imagery with his lyrics that evoke feelings that exist beyond what lie in the stories his songs tell.
From the opening notes of “Branch I Bend”, the song quickly transports you to a sunlit field, with mellow streams and warm breezes blowing. Yet even as the acoustic guitars and keyboard melodies create this idyllic atmosphere, Crane’s plaintive voice, relaying lyrics like “My love for you drove me insane. All in a day’s work” disrupts the calm in a pleasing yet unsettling manner.
“No One is Missing” wobbles, sinks and floats over a sparse folk arrangement in ways that intrigue and beguile. The cadence and flow of Crane’s delivery is captivating while never being in your face. It’s followed by the Dylan-esque “Pine Trees”, where Crane spins a dreamlike yarn over melancholy guitars and marching drums. The track even finds a bit of a sea shanty vibe as the flute comes in. There’s an equally soulful, searching element to the beautiful “Mockingbird” that could almost be described as spiritual.
Crane’s poetic lyricism is never overly obtuse, though lines like “make me an instrument when the long dark cloud puts its feet on the ground” on “Instrument” benefit the song’s emotional resonance more so than it’s narrative. Aside from “Voice Inside the Well”, which references the mass shooting in Las Vegas some years back, most of the songs’ meanings are more difficult to decipher, though as the album is so pleasing to listen to, the lyrical content has time to unfold itself steadily over repeat listens.
Valley Maker‘s strengths are in wistful folk ballads, but there are a few interesting exercises where Crane stretches beyond the group’s comfort zone. “Aberration” has an eerie, gothic quality (and also some exquisite musicianship on display), while “On a Revelation” takes a stab at folk rock, with a mournful fiddle playing off a discordant electric guitar riff. Crane even sounds like he’s having some fun on “Line Erasing”, an upbeat number that begs you to clap along until its jazzy trumpet outro.
When the Day Leaves is certainly music for certain moods and times. It’s somber and thoughtful, made for long drives or quiet nights. It’s an album to absorb and let in, and if you do so, it will certainly reward you.