Samantha Crain – 'Kid Face' album review

The Oklahoman country-folk singer makes an affecting, autobiographical British debut

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

26-year-old Samantha Crain often gets mistaken for a 16 year old, hence the title of her first album to get a UK release. But there’s no mistaking her talent. An Oklahoman of Choctaw heritage whose ancestors were displaced from Mississippi during The Trail of Tears, she writes charmingly tuneful country-folk with a deep and sultry undertow, and delivers it in a lush, dark voice that sounds heavy with moisture.

Crain’s done her groundwork. She took a semester-long musical retreat at university before releasing her first EP, a short story cycle called ‘The Confiscation’, back in 2007. She was reared on her dad’s Dylan and Neil Young records, and spent her teens with the classic wanderer’s Americana of Woody Guthrie, offset by a tang of experimentalism from those other fellow Oklahomans, The Flaming Lips.

Four albums in, Crain is still, touchingly, something of a fangirl. ‘Kid Face’s stand-out track ‘For the Miner’, with its slouching bass and melody reminiscent of U2’s ‘One’, is one of several she’s written in ‘response’ to songs by Jason Molina, whose premature death last spring sealed off one of her primary sources of creative motivation. But there’s a deeper influence at play, too. Crain’s voice, at its most elastic and enigmatic on ‘Paint’, holds a memory of the traditional North American songs and Choctaw hymns of her ancestors, with their wordless utterances of pure emotion. It makes her otherwise easygoing sound turn heads, and command musician fans of her own.

Which isn’t to say the lyrics aren’t worth your attention too. Crain’s first ‘completely autobiographical’ record, ‘Kid Face’ bears out the assertion in her Twitter biog: ‘born with a predisposition to wayfaring’. It’s all about feeling the tug – whether away from a bad relationship, as Daniel Foulks’ fiddle flits and slides on the banjo-kicked opening track ‘Never Going Back’; gently off the rails as on ‘The Pattern Has Changed’, the sort of magically threadbare piano ballad you imagine being plinked out through fingerless gloves in the snow; back to her roots, or onwards to the horizon that’s anywhere but home. As she insists on the resilient title track, ‘Oh I’ve still got a lot of fight before I settle down.’

Recorded in seven swift days by Mountain Goats producer John Vanderslice, ‘Kid Face’ can’t quite exert the pull of Crain’s live performances, as that voice emerges from a thick curtain of dark but girlishly fringed hair. But, true to its title, there’s a depth here you might not expect from first impressions.

Buy this album here

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