When I first came across Samantha Crain, she was sitting in with Matt Fisher at The Colony on songwriter's night and just beginning to make herself known in Tulsa. What I witnessed then was a young lady with a distinctly recognizable voice and a gift for storytelling. I went home that night with a copy of her debut disc, The Confiscation, in hand and a good hunch that we'd be hearing plenty more from her in the future.
Fast forward to today and that hunch wasn't wrong. Although Crain hasn't focused on saturating Tulsa's music scene, her career has taken off and led her elsewhere. Picked up by Ramsuer Records, Crain and her band, The Midnight Shivers, released Songs in the Night in 2009 and hit the road, sending Crain and her band mates across the country and back. Although The Midnight Shivers disbanded after going through a period of fluctuation of band members, Crain moved forward with The Cat Calls, adapting to a trio format with Ann Wills on drums and Penny Hill on bass, while Crain picked up and electric guitar to flesh out the songs that composed her 2010 album, You (Understood).
Album by album, Crain's songwriting and storytelling improved, as did her confidence, both in the studio and on stage. Each was a step forward for Crain in a progression that continues with her latest disc, Kid Face, which is set for release next Tuesday, Feb. 19.
The real strength of the new disc is twofold: not only does the delivery sound very natural and at ease, Crain's lyrics strike even closer to home with Kid Face, making it her strongest and most poignant album to date.
When discussing the new disc and her evolution with Crain, she said, "With The Midnight Shivers, I feel that was a very natural record, but had a little more of a country feel to it. When you understand the point I was in, though, I didn't have a very clear vision of where I was. With this record, though, I feel like I've got a very good idea of where I am and what I want to do."
"A lot of it has to do with the producer, John Vanderslice, as well," Crain added. "He's a musician himself and he understands how a musician's mind works. When you've lived with these songs for a year, you get an idea in your head of what they should sound like and it can get a little convoluted. John is really good at helping you focus, so it all sounds cohesive and at ease."
Crain also said that this album was recorded as quickly as possible, with a conscious effort to not labor over the songs too much.
"I feel like that's maybe where it's all fallen apart a little bit before, because I over-thought the songs, so this time we went in and recorded them quickly, which helped keep the process fairly simple."
Beyond the band performance, however, Crain herself sounds more at ease on this album than she ever has before. When addressing this, Crain told me, "With my singing, when I was younger, that was sort of my unrest. I was concerned with what I sounded like and I think that came through in my loudness and delivery and enunciation. I wanted a unique voice that you could latch onto and was very conscious of that."
"Over the years, though, it has become easier," she continued. "A lot of it has to do with touring a lot. I've finally gotten to a point where I just don't think about it. Up until the past year or two, I was always very aware of how I was singing and what I sounded like, but now I'm to a point where I don't think about it anymore and it just comes naturally."
Over the years, Crain's songwriting has continued to develop as she has experimented with different sounds and textures. With Kid Face, however, simplicity is the key to her song structures. Even when augmented by strings or extra instrumentation, there's a starkness to the structures that highlights the intimacy of the lyrics and Crain's delivery.
To her credit, Crain admitted, "After The Midnight Shivers broke up I had a hard time translating those songs into solo songs. So I was trying with this record to focus on making sure the songs can be played by myself. I start from scratch, with my voice and a guitar and add from there, because that's the first way I hear a song anyway: my voice with a guitar or piano, when I'm writing."
The other aspect that makes Kid Face stand out is the lyrics, as Crain delivers some of the most personal songs of her career. When asked about that, Crain said, "I'm not sure it was conscious in the beginning. Before I wrote songs, I wrote short stories, so even though I took some things from my experience, I'd sprinkle a little 'fiction dust' on it. That just lends a way to make it feel a little more comfortable."
"I've kind of been in a flow where I was able to write more autobiographical songs, though. I've written a couple of others in the past, but it's taken me a while to become comfortable with it. When I realized the first two songs I'd written were that personal and very forthcoming, it kind of excited me," Crain said. "I've never been that open to use 100 percent of my own experience, so I ended up making a point of keeping it all very personal and not using as much fiction dust this time."
The end result is not only Crain's most personal album to date, but also an album where she sounds the most at ease with herself and her delivery. As the album hits the market next week, Crain will also hit the road once again. Crain returns to Tulsa this Friday night, Feb. 15, to kick off a Midwest tour with the band that she recorded the album with. From there, plans are still developing for 2013, but Crain share that she will be performing at SXSW again this year with appearances at the Oklahoma and 30 Tigers showcases and a handful of dates opening for Murder By Death and Man Man are already on the books.
With an album as strong and personal as Kid Face, however, it's safe to expect Crain's star to continue to rise as she wins over audiences with her confident delivery and constant touring. You can get a preview of what the year will bring, however, by stopping in at Fassler Hall this Friday night.
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It may be February, but there's been nearly no winter dormancy set in on the local music scene. This week is one of the busiest of the year so far and there's no sign of things slowing down. There's far too much for us to list all of it here, so make sure to check the Live Music calendar for complete listings. If you're looking for tip on the hottest shows, however, we've got the highlights to get you started in the right direction.
Thursday, February 14
The biggest show of the night (if not the entire week) is the arrival of rock legends The Who at BOK Center, performing Quadrophenia along with a selection of hits from the rest of the band's career for what could be one of your last opportunities to see Townshend and Daltrey live. Across the tracks, Eli Young Band returns to Tulsa for a Valentine's show at Brady Theater. And if you're looking for some local tunes, you can check out John Moreland at Mercury Lounge, Dustin Pittsley with Jesse Aycock and Friends at The Yeti or Meryll with Scales of Motion at Soundpony.
Friday, February 15
The night is packed with great shows as Samantha Crain unveils her new CD, Kid Face, with a show at Fassler Hall with a full band and The Vanguard hosts Jacob Abello and his band Prettyboy Fahrenheit with Chrome Pony and Randall Shreive. Cain's Ballroom hosts a SOLD OUT show with The XX and Austra for the big show of the night. Afterwards, stop in at The Yeti for The Bourgeois with The Dull Drums. And if you're a long-time local music fan, you won't want to miss the reunion of New Science at The Shrine with openers Zero Crossing.
Saturday, February 16
Hays Carll headlines Cain's Ballroom with Folk Family Revival opening the show and Rick Springfield brings the 80's back to River Spirit Events Center for the big shows of the night. Meanwhile, The Vanguard mixes it up with Broncho, Colourmusic, Riot Bear and Tell Tale while Soundpony remains the haven for indie rock wit Tiger Waves and Kite Flying Robot and Mercury Lounge brings the best Americana to town with Mike & the Moon Pies.
Sunday, February 17
Mix up your Sunday routine by checking out the Jazz Hall of Fame with Afton Hefley and Nick Mancini for an early evening show at 5pm. And if you're in the mood to hang out later, stop in for Jason Ferguson with The March Divide at Hunt Club or wrap up your weekend at The Shrine with Tori Ruffin's Juicemaker Jam.
The rest of the week is relatively quiet, but Wednesday night, February 20 is busy again with Captain Comfy at The Shrine, Steve Pryor at 306 Phoenix House (at the corner of 3rd & Charles Page Boulevard) and Johnny Polygon's record release party for The Nothing with The Bourgeois, Algebra and After The Smoke at Oculus (formerly Red).
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