Arriving a year after 2017's Out in the Storm -- Waxahatchee's most defiant album of her first four -- the Great Thunder EP offers a drastic contrast to its predecessor's crunchy, full-band indie rock. Presenting Katie Crutchfield's sparest material since her 2012 Waxahatchee debut, the EP's six tracks were selected from the handful of releases she wrote and performed as half of Great Thunder, her duo with onetime Swearin' bassist and Waxahatchee touring drummer Keith Spencer. She reworks the songs here, stripping down arrangements to minimal piano or, in two cases, guitar, with occasional light touches of electronic keyboards, bass, and percussion. The opening track, "Singer's No Star," opts for simple piano chords and a few backing vocals as accompaniment. The song was taken from Great Thunder's final release, The Great Thunder Radiator Hospital Wedding Album, which was home-recorded in 2014 with Radiator Hospital's Sam Cook-Parrott. The original version, while still warm and wistful, was delivered via a full-band arrangement that included multiple guitar solos as well as lead vocals by Cook-Parrott. Crutchfield's redo essentially moves the song from the garage of a group of Big Star disciples into the living room of a singer/songwriter with affection-infused grievances. It should be noted that these are not home recordings; rather, the EP was tracked at Justin Vernon's April Base studios in Wisconsin with Megafaun's Brad Cook. Nevertheless, imperfect, immediate performances, along with melodies that sometimes push Crutchfield into her upper range, intensify the raw intimacy of the EP and the vulnerability inherent in most of the songs. Over the course of Great Thunder, her voice seems to more naturally complement the guitar, and the guitar entries "Chapel of Pines" and "Slow You Down" are among the EP's highlights, also offering its most fleshed-out arrangements. Lacking the intensity of her main catalog, Great Thunder plays out more like an addendum that an essential Waxahatchee recording, but the songs are still worth discovery.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson