There’s an old saying—or maybe there’s not—that “you can take the man out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the man.” Austin Crane, a gifted young songwriter out of Columbia, South Carolina, is that maxim made manifest. His stunning debut album as Valley Maker — composed as his college thesis and released independently in 2010 — set ancient creation narratives against rough-hewn folk rock as it humanized the plights of such biblical characters as Abraham, Jacob, and Hagar. Valley Maker’s latest, the gentle and moving Yes, I Know I’ve Loved This World, finds the singer still preoccupied with matters of the soul, even as his lyrical focus shifts from the ephemeral to the corporeal.
“Don’t give me God, don’t give me grace,” Crane sings on foot-stomping opener “By My Side (Everlasting Life)”, which channels Will Oldham by way of Conor Oberst against gothic acoustic guitar, rhythmic percussion, and a longing for “something I can taste.” Crane echoes that sentiment on the banjo-flecked “Only Friend” and haunting “Take My People Dancing”, two standout tracks that exemplify Valley Maker’s preference for propulsive melodies and urgent refrains over traditional verse-chorus-verse song structures. Thematically, I Know I’ve Loved… isn’t so simple as a call to humanism — Crane struggles with that he’s forsaken, both spiritually and physically, on “The Mission”, a jubilant and cathartic track that wonders who and what he’ll be missing “when my time ends.”
Like James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, Crane understands the importance of flight (“If I stayed within your tree, I don’t know who I would be”), but his impending move to Seattle to pursue a PhD hangs heavy over the record. “When will you come back home?” a chorus asks on “Something Like Someone”. “I never left, I guess,” Crane replies with a trace of melancholy. His faith, his southern roots, and his childhood are inextricably interwoven into the songwriter’s and, by extension, his album’s DNA. The result, though haunting and occasionally pained, is ultimately reverent: a Southern Gothic hymnal for the secular and devout alike.
Essential Tracks: “The Mission”, “Take My People Dancing”, and “Only Friend”