An indefinable Oklahoma singer takes a great leap forward on a new album.
Mon Sep 20 2010
Photograph: Sam Lamb
Samantha Crain prompts plenty of comparisons to Joanna Newsom and Neil Young, but any attempt to label this 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Shawnee, Oklahoma, invariably falls short. That Crain is part Choctaw and quite young are obvious notes that miss the point. The combination of her warm, changeable voice and ease in traveling among musical styles places her in territory that blithely resists definition.
On You (Understood), out since June on Ramseur, Crain applies her elegant punk alto to the big picture. The album’s 11 songs dip deftly into images of Passover, lions of gold, wickedness and floods, showing real artistic strides since her 2007 debut EP, Confiscations, and 2009 LP, Songs in the Night. Crain, who has put 100,000 miles on her Land Rover in the past year of touring, reaches to styles of music like a craftsman into a toolbox: “Santa Fe,” with clear and lovely guest vocals from Frontier Ruckus’s Matthew Milia, is a sunny country tune in the vein of Gillian Welch, while “Up on the Table” is catchy, raucous pop. The album hangs on guitar, drums and the occasional banjo, but the star attraction is Crain’s seductively earnest storyteller’s voice, which can stretch a vowel into howling wind or unanswerable query.
Crain also has an intriguing feel for subtlety. Consider the double entendre in the new record’s title: both pithy declarative and a riff on English’s imperative mood, in which you is absent but taken as a given. For example: Listen to this woman.
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