Samantha Crain is one of the unique songstresses who defy true categorization. Part folk artist, part poet, Crain can be both slightly confusing and thoroughly engaging. Her voice is unique, but startlingly rich.
The Confiscation, the young lady's latest disc, is subtitled "A Musical Novella by Samantha Crain" and includes five chapters, in lieu of song titles. The disc's liner notes, laid out as if her works was a book, declares the disc, in summary, "Songs of love, ate, death, redemption and betrayal"--all essential ingredients for a classic novel.
What we receive from the package is a five-song tapestry that draws you in with Crain's hypnotizing voice. While the disc starts with the main character going down to "The River" for a baptism, the rest of the story sees the protagonist struggling with the concepts of death ("Beloved, We Have Expired"), sin ("Traipsing through the Aisles"), forgiveness and redemption. In other words, it's a morality play in EP form.
While Crain doesn't retain the Midas touch of pop master Joni Mitchell, her mature songwriting is sure to draw comparisons to female writers of such caliber, including Rickie Lee Jones.
Already drawing attention and positive reviews from publications like Paste Magazine, Crain just might be the unlikely candidate to shed the image of Oklahoma songwriters being primarily Red Dirt or country artists. So long as she focuses on her songwriting, she'll have no problem staking claim to a place of her own. --Gary Hizer
Great Let Down
The first three records from The Faint were full of goofy, dance party escapism (2001's single "Danse Macabre" is, by now, a college rave classic), but Fasciinatiion finds the Omaha dance-punkers, regrettably, lacking in both the goof and the dance department.
Part of what was so attractive about the Faint was that their music was defiantly adolescent--pretentious in a harmless, freshman philosophy-major sort of way, pre-occupied with sex, sometimes embarrassingly cheesy, but always presented in a gleefully tongue-in-cheek way.
Sadly, the band seems to have become yet another casualty of (the Iraq) war. Fasciinatiion trades in one kind of hipster posturing for another; instead of the joyous amorality of "Worked Up So Sexual," you get the ponderous, unsubtle anti-war screed "A Battle Hymn for Children." (If it's true that God prefers the U.S.A./ Is Every Bomb We Drop In God's Name?)
Lead singer Todd Fink has never been one for intelligent lyrics, but when he was chanting about his sympathy for strippers, his shyness around groupies and his fascination with the, ahem, erection, it was easy to laugh the pep talk away and just enjoy the beats and blips.
Now, not only is he pushing laughably cookie-cutter protest lyrics, the band has apparently decided that dancing during wartime is not okay. Each track is a tedious, overbearing attempt to be taken "seriously," and the result is one of the most disappointing albums of the year. --Josh Kline
Hex Appeal Records
After forming in 1995 and drawing interest from a handful of record labels, Black Wednesday went on hiatus around 1997 and finally emerged nearly a decade later. Guitarist and principle member Erv Felker has stayed active in the local music scene, playing with bands like DDS and Team Galaxy and even drawing honors in last year's Billboard songwriting contest. It was only a matter of time before he eventually pulled the band out of hibernation to finally record a CD, aptly titled Since 1995.
While the songs are definitely quality modern rock tunes, they sound dated in 2008, recalling (appropriately, it seems) the radio leanings of the early to mid '90s. You know, the days when Nirvana, Candlebox and Alice in Chains were kings of the radio.
While the songs are strong enough, the overall vibe, sonic dynamic and even vocal delivery is very reminiscent of that era's quintessential band Nirvana. In fact, "Washitah" sounds like the step-sister to Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance.
Elsewhere we do get a little variation. "Pigs in Hell," for instance, draws a bit from The Misfits and Danzig. For the most part, however, the fuzzy, distorted guitars and howling vocals indicate Seattle more than Tulsa.
While it's great to finally get to hear these songs and see Felker back on stage to present them, the disc unfortunately serves as more of a retro-'90s fix for anyone who misses Edgefest in Mohawk Park, flannel shirts and Seattle grunge. --G.H.
After last year's overwrought Cassadega, Bright Eyes went into hiding, temporarily shed his nom de plume and recorded what amounts to his most mature, realized work yet.
He used to be the king of indie-angst. Fevers and Mirrors and Lifted are both classic angry teenager albums that had the distinct advantage of coming from one extremely literate, self-effacing angry teenager who was able to make cursing one's parents while crying in the bathroom seem... not pathetic. He's been called this generation's Bob Dylan (we'll see), and he single-handedly turned Omaha, Nebraska into an indie mecca for about fifteen minutes back in 2005. He's played with Emmylou Harris and The Boss, founded two record labels, battled drug addiction and cursed the president on the Tonight Show. In short, he's a rock star.
But now, at 29, Conor Oberst is allowing himself to evolve as a musician and grow as a person. No longer the sarcastic, snot-nosed screamer (circa Fevers), nor the politically active bohemian New Yorker (circa I'm Wide Awake It's Morning--still his best under the Bright Eyes banner), Oberst now seems to be just comfortably existing. And it's all over this album, his first "solo" album in 13 years.
The music is firmly rooted in Americana, folk, and country, more so than any of his previous work. Songs like "I Don't Want To Die (in a hospital)" and "Souled Out!!" might easily find homes as foot-stompers in a honky-tonk, while "Cape Canaveral" and "Milk Thistle" bookend the album with an unusually restrained Oberst quietly singing the kind of stripped-down, haunted folk that'd make Elliott Smith proud.
It's a modest album but another big step forward--Oberst now exists not as a hype machine, but as a musician. Deservingly so--if he continues to write and evolve at this rate (an album a year, give or take), he may eventually deserve those "next Bob Dylan" statements. For now though, he deserves respect for just being Conor Oberst. --J.K.
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