When spoken in a Texan accent, the words “soil” and “soul” basically become homonyms, and it may be no coincidence that those two things (admittedly, in a very simplified way) are what make up singer-songwriter Meredith Crawford’s music.
The "soil" is the deep reverence and appreciation she has for her Texas homeland: the pastures, the woods, the lakes, the streets and, most important, the people who dot the prairie of the eastern portion of Texas, from where she hails. The "soul," meanwhile, being the kindness, the joy, the emotionality and the comfort that comes with those places, what colors them and gives them meaning. Together, the physical and ethereal elements interact in Crawford’s debut LP Transit.
Crawford grew up in Chandler, which, in addition to being home to just under 3,000 people, also holds the motto “The City With a Heart.” Perhaps it was passing that “Welcome to Chandler” sign back and forth in her youth so many times — or more likely by pure happenstance — that Crawford's debut is almost overrun with heart.
The heart inherent in Crawford’s songwriting is the golden thread that holds it together. That, along with her cracked country baritone voice, which falls somewhere between Bobbie Gentry and Patsy Cline. Musically, however, the album oscillates between genres — like a kid picking an outfit for a first date — changing musical style to the point that the only constant on the record is change itself. From barnburners to ballads, from new wave to the sounds of a wave goodbye — Transit has it all.
One of the standout cuts on the album is the opener “Betty Lou.” The song memorializes, but certainly doesn’t romanticize, an East Texas murder story involving Gun Barrel City serial husband-killer Betty Lou Botts.
“I mainly wrote that song to keep that story alive," Crawford explains. "Like my own version of ‘Battle of Orleans’ or ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.’ But once you start songwriting it’s no longer music. In a way, it’s more of a conversation.”
The album continues with other "conversations," such as “Best Kept Secret” (which sounds like the result of an older '60s or '70s pop act like The Beatles or the Byrds recording at Motown) and “Ransom,” which Crawford describes musically as the “Rasco” song on the record, in that its tonality was born of guitarist/beau/bandleader Chris Rasco’s proclivity toward '80s pop music such as Tears for Fears.
These songs, mentioned together, highlight the album’s range. It takes its listener through several decades and locales, through Crawford's low, sun-drenched voice. The album uses Crawford's coupling of songwriting honesty and individuality as its anchors, with which it braves the crashing waves of ever-cycling genres, the waves of whirling spacy guitar pads in the background — that at the drop of a dime can immediately transubstantiate into guitar solos hotter than the Texas sun in July. Finally, the album’s emotional peak is the title track “Transit.” A melancholic but hopeful song that almost feels like it was recorded inside of a dream while simultaneously recalling shades of stadium rock songs from eras passed. Stadium rock but, you know, good.
It is all of Crawford’s assorted influences, with the north star guiding lights of her songwriting depth and voice, that combine to cement the lore of Meredith Crawford as one of the most exciting new acts in East Texas’ burgeoning and flush music scene. Boasting diversity to the point that folk artist Heather Little could easily be mentioned in the same breath, one could even imagine Crawford on the same stage as psych-rock outfit Gorgeous Jetson. This melting pot of a scene in East Texas repaid her in this last year with a veritable cornucopia of awards at the annual ETX (East Texas) Music Awards, including Entertainer of the Year, Best Song, Best Album, Female Vocalist of the Year and an ancillary win when her band’s guitarist, Deep Ellum-bred Chris Rasco, took home the award for Best Guitarist.
Awards aside however, Crawford’s album is opening up more avenues for the native East Texan who now is at a point in her career when she is playing in larger and larger cities both in Texas and beyond, all the while being supported by those fans, family and followers that she will forever hold in higher regard than any award.
“East Texas is my home and will always be my home," she says. "But there are challenges that lie outside its boundaries that I need to go after. If you’re gonna play music, play music, daggum it!”
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.