Valley Maker – When The Day Leaves: Album Review

When The Day Leaves by the singular talent of Valley Maker, offers contemplative songs to rebalance the uncertainty of our times

Release Date:  19th February 2021

Label: Frenchkiss Records

Formats: CD / Vinyl / Streaming / DL

Valley Maker, aka South Carolinian Austin Crane, is a singular talent.  A writer of contemplative songs with lyrics that often touch on the surreal, he’s also a highly accomplished guitarist with a chameleonic ability to mimic many styles. He’s also the owner of an intriguing voice that has the honeyed tones of James Taylor and, when appropriate, the sarcastic edge of Michael Stipe.  When The Day Leaves is his fourth album, his first since 2018’s Rhododendron and it’s quite something!

Described as “An uninterrupted sequence of reflections about the general limbo of being awed by and worried for this world,” When The Day Leaves has been inspired at least in part, by the enforced constraints  and inspired self-reflection during a pandemic that has “…seen us all become experts in the imbalance of uncertainty, newly accustomed to canceling plans and tentatively rescheduling them for some future we can only imagine.”  Those words set the scene pretty well for When The Day Leaves – a collection of wordy, reflective songs with abstract, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

And the musical dressing is simply divine.  Production is generally minimalist (although there are some notable exceptions) with Austin’s guitar supported by light percussion, some very tasty woodwind from Morgan Henderson and dreamlike, ghostly even, vocal harmonies from Austin’s long-time collaborator Amy Godwin.

Life has been busy for Austin and his wife, Megan, in the years since the release of Rhododendron.  Having lived in Seattle for ten years whilst he pursued his doctorate in human geography (“the branch of geography dealing with how human activity affects or is influenced by the earth’s surface“) they’ve now relocated back to their home state of South Carolina to rejoin a deep community of friends there.  All of those experiences have fed into and inspired this latest collection.

The album kicks off with Branch I Bend, the current single. A meditation on how we sense the passing of time.  Musically, the song provides the template that is followed for much of the album with the contemplative guitar, ponderous, steady drums and that wonderful woodwind and backing vocal combination all coming together to deliver a relaxing, reassuring effect.  No One Is Missing also ponders the passage of time; this time in relation to the life of a traveling musician and the time that is spent away from those we love.  There’s a hint of REM in the delivery, and Amy’s backing vocals give the song a slightly Eastern feel.

For Instrument, a song that features some nice piano licks alongside the acoustic guitar, Austin adopts a Neil Young guise, before showcasing that James Taylor-like voice on the epic Mockingbird.  Aberration is probably the album’s dreamiest song, with Amy’s vocals and Morgan’s woodwind once again highly prominent and lyrics like “Lost where I’m going, forgot where I’ve been” adding to the song’s enigmatic nature.

The surreal Voice Inside The Wall recalls Dylan in his Subterranean Homesick Blues pomp as it takes us on a lyrical rant that references, amongst much more, the 2017 shooting that killed 58 (eventually 61) people.  On A Revelation is a particular highlight. The rockiest song on the album, laden with fuzzy guitars, it again recalls Neil Young and develops into an anthem with Amy taking on the role of a co-lead vocalist.  In contrast, Freedom is the closest thing we have to a conventional singer/songwriter offering. Its folky, fingerpicked guitar, early Dylan content and structure build up to the “Freedom is the end of time, Freedom’s never done” punchline.

The Neil Young influence on these songs is perhaps most prevalent on Line Erasing: a song which, with its references to hurricanes and borderlines (with the limits they impose on personal freedom) would fit comfortably onto Harvest or After the Goldrush.  The album closes with its title track. An epic country-flavoured singalong that identifies the things that sometimes make life difficult – bullshit, border checkpoints and “politician jackals” are all mentioned, but reassuringly concludes that the good and reliable things in life, particularly companionship, will always overcome the difficulties.  It’s a fine and appropriate ending to an enjoyable, mellow and hope-giving album.

Watch the official video for Instrument, a track from the album, here:

Valley Maker Online: Website/ Facebook/ Twitter / Instagram/ YouTube

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