She's singing our song.
"You and I tell stories the TV won't release. They keep us in the wild, under branch and thorn and tree…"
Crain's song Outside The Pale is a shout-out for the outsider. Both individual and community.
As you know, the title phrase grew out of the 12th-century boundary erected to keep the native Irish from annoying invading settlers.
Samantha Crain has been singing songs about the outsider experience since before she began releasing her records in 2008. This 10-track set, her fourth album, is evidence of the development of an authoritative talent.
Above all else, Crain is musical. Her voice seems wiser than her 28 years. Her ability to hold the listener's attention was developed over years of singing for her life.
Recording with John Vanderslice, who produced Crain's breakthrough Kid Face, the pair had the inspired idea of incorporating a string section, the Magic*Magic Orchestra, on a number of tracks.
Their percussive thrust and sweep adds urgency to Outside The Pale and a mournful cinematic expanse to Elk City, a cautionary tale of how a woman became trapped in a dead-end town.
"I was 17 when I came to this place in a boyfriend's coal wagon…" Crain sings. "He didn't say where he went. Never told any of us…" It's an effecting story written as confidently as John Prine or Woody Guthrie. But Crain is her own talent. She's a distinctive voice.
The songs carry more than a hint of protest. And, God knows, there's plenty to rail at. "I'm not trying to win arguments," insists Crain. "I'm just trying to get people into the conversation."
It's a technique that works. Her guitar-playing is impressive. The spectral sonic landscape she conjures up for You or The Mystery, a tale of an elderly neighbour, and the haunting All In, captures an allure similar to that experienced on Laura Veirs' landmark album Carbon Glacier.
The mood is almost Johnny Cash on Big Rock, a jaunty singalong metaphor, with added pedal steel, about being "stuck on a rock... with the waters so wide."
I'm expecting Ireland to take Samantha to its collective heart. Not just for her sure-footed songs but, of Choctaw heritage, this Oklahoma woman's forefathers would have been among those who, astonishingly, sent relief to Ireland during the Great Famine.
Maybe, just maybe, she got something of the folk tradition in return. Hear this beautiful album. HHHHI
(Full Time Hobby)