The other day, two goons stepped way out of their comfort zone and went to a Samantha Crain living room concert on a Tuesday evening in Boston. Best idea we’ve had in a long time!
I’ve written a bit about Crain, who has one of the most extraordinary voices I’ve ever heard. She’s a Choctaw-American Okie who sings, plays the guitar, and writes songs that pass right through your chest like a steel girder that loves you very much. Wonderful to discover she’s even better live.
After the show, I told her about the first time I heard her voice on the radio, and I was late picking up my kid from work because I had to pull over a cry for a little bit. She sang that song the other night. Here is “Elk City:”
She’s relaxed, chatty, and self-deprecating in between songs, and her frank face and demeanor put you at ease; but once she gets to singing, she has a trick of bowing her head right in behind her guitar, as if she’s climbing right inside the song. I was very impressed at how she committed to each piece, even though this show was the last in a long series, and the audience was maybe fifteen rather stiff, unresponsive folks. She tuned her guitar incessantly between songs, and absolutely filled the room with her voice, which, as I said, makes me think of a cold brook running in and out of sun and shade.
Her newest album, You Had Me At Goodbye, has less of a folk feel (although “folk” isn’t quite the right word) and more unconventional instrumentation and structure than her previous albums, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Listen to the deeply old-fashioned soulful wail of “When the Roses Bloom Again”
You never heard anything else like it, anyway, right? I wish Johnny Cash had recorded a song or two with her.
She performed the slyly funny “Antiseptic Greeting,” which she described as a song about the experience of having resting bitch face.
Here’s “Red Sky Blue Mountain” in the Chahta language, which she didn’t sing in this concert, but I’m including it to show how she sounds live:
So intense. Her guitar playing is also very deft and sets a complete mood. Some of her songs are . . . shattering. Many of her songs start out with some familiar sentiment, and you think, “Ah, this is going to be such-and-such type of song, for ladies,” and then the lyric veers away a bit, putting you off balance; and then comes the hook, which just flattens you. “When You Come Back” was one of those.
I do wish you could have heard this live in a small room. Her voice was so raw and direct. She also sang something I think was called “Tough For You” which I may never recover from. Damien almost fell out of his chair, too. I think she said she had just recorded it for her next album, so that explains why I can’t find it anywhere. Keep an ear out, but hold onto your butt.
Her lyrics are always well worth listening to, and you get the impression that she’s read a lot of things and listened quietly to a lot of people, and inside her head, it all weaves itself into something a little bit frightening but dreadfully familiar. There was another one, I guess also a fairly new one, where she can’t talk to the guy because she’s just an echo, and after a while even an echo fades away, and he melts like a pat of butter but she evaporates like water in a pan. Well, you’d have to hear it.
She said she rarely sings old songs she wrote a long time ago, because it’s like eating the same food over and over and over again, and it just tastes bad after a while. She called “Sante Fe” the pizza of her songs, because she still always enjoys it, and so do I:
She also did a rare cover song, “Slip Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon, because I wasn’t already steadily leaking tears, and my nose needed to start leaking, too. Good grief, I just sat there and cried for an hour like a giant weirdo. But it was fine. Afterwards, a woman came up and excitedly told her that the Dolores in the song was actually about her mother Dolores, and Crain said that lots of people have told her the same thing about their mothers, Dolores! Ha.
About living room concerts: This one was actually in a small home furnishings store called A Curated World, but most are in actual living rooms, and the tickets are very cheap. Crain explained that concert promoters lose interest in you if you don’t put out an album every year, and she wanted to devote more time to her next album; so living room concert series are an increasingly popular way to bridge that gap. There are few to no middle men, so the performer gets most of the profit; and the audience gets the incredible benefit of spending an intimate hour with the artist. They had invited us to bring beer or wine. We brought a nice bottle of red wine, and it turned out we were the only ones who had. Too bad!
Anyway, if Samantha Crain ever comes anywhere near you, it’s well worth a drive to go see her. It was an unforgettable hour with a top notch performer.