Review: Samantha Crain Sparkles at The Louisiana

2nd April 2017

Considering that Samantha Crain is currently touring on the back of derisively titled album You Had Me at Goodbye and the fact she kicks off tonight’s show with her sardonic ode to “resting bitch face” – the gorgeous folk-pop of ‘Antiseptic Greeting’ – one could be forgiven for judging her as something of misanthrope. In reality, it’s very much the opposite as the Oklahoman singer-songwriter effortlessly displays how a convivial host and droll raconteur can really supplement one’s enjoyment of a live music show.

It helps of course when the music is good and Crain’s tuneful and emotive folk tunes – played here with a full band featuring members of English rock band The Leisure Society – more than suffice. So that the audience can “figure out if you wanna buy it or not”, Crain declares that she is going to play the new album from start to finish. Second track ‘Oh Dear Louis’, revealing Crain’s natural ear for a hook, is a catchy and immediate two minutes of Americana.

In hoping to achieve her aim of an elusive love song (past attempts have reverted to heartbreak by the time a chorus is reached), Crain employs reverse psychology in the verses to ‘Wise One’ (love “is not everything, it is not food, it is not water to drink”) before exploding into a fine chorus of Crain’s heightened vocals atop a whirling interplay between clarinet and violin.

In listening to You Had Me at Goodbye, one may express slight disappointment – particularly given the breezy opening salvo of Antiseptic Greeting’ – at the album’s generally slow pace. However, within the intimacy of live performance and the fact that Crain’s engaging repartee provides insight into the artistic worldview that informs her songs, there is much here to be enjoyed.

She provides the story behind almost every song: Given her Native American heritage, we’re informed that the lyrics of ‘Red Sky, Blue Mountain’ are entirely written in Choctaw, ‘Loneliest Handsome Man’ is written about a “gigantic asshole” of a friend who is compared to Mad Men’s Don Draper and, in introducing the Will Rogers inspired ‘Betty’s Eulogy’, she amusingly speculates on the wisdom behind naming an airport after someone who died in a plane crash.

The five piece band set up of acoustic guitar, bass, drums, clarinet and violin is unchanging for the entire show and the songs are furnished with a satisfying poise. The complementary exchanges of clarinet and violin work especially well, particularly within the spooky clarinet solo of Will Dean Cobb’s ‘When The Roses Bloom Again’ and the stabs of violin provided in ‘Windmill Crusader.’ Supple, fractured and often sounding like Lisa Hannigan with a Midwest twang, Crain’s excellent vocals float nimbly over the arrangements.

Following the ten tracks of the new album, we hear four songs of older material including Crain’s “stick it to the man song” ‘Outside The Pale’, the brilliant folk sing-along of ‘Sante Fe’ and the country-folk toe-tapper of ‘Somewhere All The Time.’ Crain is a larger-than-life character – bleached hair contained in haphazard bunches, baggy striped sweater and naturally possessed of a decent side line in onstage badinage; this final flurry of tunes also reveals an artist of sizeable talents.

Scott Hammond