Samantha Crain is an Oklahoma-hailing purveyor of literate folk tunes who caught me by surprise. A first listen to her new LP, Kid Face, might feel lukewarm if you’re hoping to hear something stylistically-exciting. That is exactly what it isn’t. Yet, before I could file this under “more folk” and be done with it, I realized that Crain is rare. Most of these songs run a lot deeper than the rustic stylings of the loner poet cliché many current singer-songwriters succumb to.
Her voice is addictive—enunciating awkwardly like Joanna Newsom, floaty rasp a bit like M. Ward’s when she gets quiet. Her lyrics seem aware of their first-worldliness but are unashamed to be pained. She invokes poetic detail when she can, but knows when to cut to the chase, never too heavy-handed. It all makes her a compelling figure to listen to. John Vanderslice’s production is a boon, as well—the basics sound gorgeous and the sparse flourishes throughout provide boundless atmosphere: slide guitar, swelling pedal steel, thick videogame synths, fiddle, chapel-reverb piano, and muted strings, just to name a few. Standouts like “For The Miner,” “Paint,” and the title-track are packed with the textures, lyrical curiosities, and inspired vocal melodies that make this a rewarding listen.
There are only two criticisms I can think to levy: The first one, and one I’ve already mentioned, is that Kid Face does not contribute anything new to our idea of folk music. Some might suggest, defensibly, that this doesn’t have to be a flaw at all. The other is that, on occasion, the lyrics fall off the creative-yet-accessible balancing beam, and feel a little bit safe—if you do an album that orbits its wordplay, you really want to get loose and free, but I feel Crain sometimes compromises with her listeners and spells it out a bit too much from time to time. The last three tracks are probably the least potent, only for a lack of what makes most of the disc worthwhile. That I had to look to the record’s strengths to find any fault should say something.
In A Word: Earnest