The beauty of working in music full time is that it's impossible to run out of things to discover, even late in the day. Today's belated discovery, prompted by a pitch from author and freelance writer Kate Crane, was Samantha Crain, a singer-songwriter from Shawnee, Oklahoma. Just 24 years old, Crain spins agreeably dusty, lived-in songs, and inhabits them with a sleepy drawl that sounds both novel and deeply rooted, fresh and familiar at once. Feist, Regina Spektor and Joanna Newsom are some of the comparisons I've spotted elsewhere: none improper, nor altogether accurate.
"Santa Fe," in the video above, comes from Crain's second full-length album, You (Understood), issued in June on Ramseur Records, the label that launched the Avett Brothers. Poking around a bit on Crain's MySpace page and website quickly convinced me to go buy the record from Amazon MP3. It didn't hurt that the price was a paltry five bucks (good through Tuesday, August 31); honestly, I'd have gladly paid two or three times that much.
In "Santa Fe," Crain shares vocal duties with another singer, Matthew Milia of Michigan roots combo Frontier Ruckus. The contrast is useful: Milia's brook-clear croon just makes Crain's smoky viscosity stand out that much more. It's worth watching the video in its original larger size on YouTube. While you're there, spend a little time with the various clips of earlier Crain songs; they're worth taking at face value, but they also indicate the sizable step forward You (Understood) represents.
A sharp review by Jon Caramanica, published in The New York Times after Crain played Park Slope's Southpaw in March 2009, shows just how hard it can be for an up-and-coming artist to grab attention during an industry party filled with jaded New Yorkers, but also includes plenty of evocative text citing her talent. With luck she'll encounter more converts during her two upcoming NYC-area shows, at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ on Sept. 23 and at Union Pool in Brooklyn on Sept. 24. Sad to say, I'm going to miss both of those shows. But I'm not too upset, because Crain surely will be back before long. Velocity will see to it.
Postscript: Just after this blog post hit my Twitter stream, my fabulous and much-missed former Time Out New York colleague Cristina Black reminded me that she'd reviewed Samantha Crain's debut EP, The Confiscation, for TONY more than two years ago. I'm abashed not to have remembered this (though in my defense I was a bit preoccupied at that exact moment—long story), but happy for the chance to recommend Cristina's characteristically pithy, perceptive review. You should also check out Cristina's own excellent recent EP, The Ditty Sessions, a witty and touching reminiscence of her New Orleans roots with none other than the late Alex Chilton on bass guitar.
King Crimson - Poplar Creek Music Theatre, Hoffman Estates, IL, July 22, 1984 (DGMLive.com download)
Claudio Monteverdi - Vespro della Beata Vergine da Concerto; Magnificat a 6 - Seraphic Fire, Western Michigan University Chorale/Patrick Dupré Quigley (Seraphic Fire Media)
Samantha Crain - You (Understood) (Ramseur)
Julie Christmas - The Bad Wife (Rising Pulse; due Nov. 9)
Jennifer Higdon - The Singing Rooms; Alvin Singleton - PraiseMaker; Alexander Scriabin - La Poème de l'Extase - Jennifer Koh, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Spano (Telarc; due Sept. 21)