Happiness

Album of the week : Kid Face - Samantha Crain

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 (her third overall), Kid Face. 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

This collection of eleven beautiful and thoughtful songs crafted by a gifted musician underscores both Crain’s considerable skill as a lyricist and her uniquely lovely voice. An admirer of John Vanderslice’s production work on albums by Spoon and The Mountain Goats, Crain sought him out for this project, recording at his San Francisco studio

Kid Face is a brilliant lesson about economy in composition. Four of the eleven tracks are tight two and a half minute packages saying exactly what they need and nothing more. The strings, piano and percussion are arranged unobtrusively, but timed for maximum impact. Everything helps to illustrate Crain’s distinctive voice, which is best described as having the sharp edge of Joanna Newsome with the depth of Sharon Van Etten

Hooking the listener from the start with the uptempo, percussive tune ‘Never Going Back’, Crain sings hopefully about finally moving on from a capricious relationship: “This horse that kicked me in the heart/Then asked me if I want another start or ride/He leaves me thirsty, leaves me dim/I’m lookin’ at a picture of him and his bride/Oh, I’m never going back

The album continues in a more melancholy, but no less engaging, vein with ‘Taught To Lie’ where Crain introduces a sultry new persona with a quivering, patina voice, and words about the nature of lies that flow like a long black dinner dress. “Late in the night, I’ve learned to tell the truth … sometimes”

The wit continues on ‘Paint’. “I’m almost young this year now that I’m older,” she sings. These smaller, but real issues provide balance to the weightier moments like ‘For the Miner’, a haunting tune Crain wrote in response to two songs by musician Jason Molina, when she asks “Did you get used it or are you still up with the demons all night?”

On ‘The Pattern Has Changed’,  Crain’s woebegone voice carries this lament while sombre piano comes in only when a chord change is necessary. Strings gently pluck at the end of each phrase until the climax when they get a couple of bowed accents. All in 2 minutes and 31 seconds. It ends in a silence that will likely be broken by listeners whispering, “Good. Lord”

Vanderslice’s arrangements glide between loping acoustic strums, delicate picking, and stately piano chords, though for such a quiet affair, Kid Face has a surprisingly sturdy bottom end. The mysteriously titled ‘Churchill’ is mostly low notes as Crane murmurs her confession: “My whole life I thought I was an opportunist / But I’m not.” No, she’s too kind for that, and it’s a mindset she’s trying to spread around. Even ‘Sand Paintings’, which presents her in the harshest light yet, has a sentiment we’d all do well to follow: “I won’t be hard on myself if you’ll be kind to you”

On the title tune, she recounts a trip to Mexico during which she found herself stranded not only between two countries, but also between childhood and adulthood. The melody makes short-lived stabs at forward motion, then retreats and starts again. The lyrics hint that Crain herself is similarly searching for a path ahead

The fun and swaying ‘Somewhere All The Time’ is also a simple listen, and ‘Ax’ reflects her own world view, and the state of the world today as she takes stock of her first 26 years

Samantha Crain has long been an opening act for musicians like Justin Townes Earle, Langhorne Slim and The Avett Brothers, but the stunning Kid Face could send her to the top of the bill soon

Buy it here

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