Samatha Crain – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree

Wonderful fourth from rising Oaklahoman

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For many, last year’s European debut Kid Face served as a compelling introduction to Samantha Crain. Though she’s been making records for the best part of ten years now, picking up plaudits from sympatico touring partners like First Aid Kit and Deer Tick.

Under Branch & Thorn & Tree, while less directly autobiographical than Kid Face, is a deft patchwork of stories and impressions largely drawn from first-hand experience, both in her native Oklahoma and beyond. Her folksy arrangements favour the minimal, the graceful plasticity of Crain’s voice framed by acoustic guitar, percussive strings and discreet rhythms. She calls this her underdog album. “Killer” was inspired by the Occupy Movement, while the very lovely “Outside The Pale” alludes to her own Choctaw heritage: “You and I tell the stories the TV won’t release/ They keep us in the wild / Under branch and thorn and tree.”

There are existential echoes of Jason Molina, a key inspiration, on many of these songs. “When You Come Back” or “If I Had A Dollar”, for instance, wouldn’t feel out of place on a Songs:Ohia album. But the spirit of Joanna Newsom also pervades Crain’s work, particularly in the unusual phrasing and her habit of stretching a vowel until it finds the perfect place to alight.

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Most striking of all, perhaps, is her gift for a convincing narrative. “Elk City” tells the true tale of a 17-year-old girl who arrives in a new town with her boyfriend, only for him to scarper when boom turns to bust. She consoles herself with a fling, only to find that “that night turned into nine months sittin’ on my ass/Waiting for a baby/My first and my last”. And nothing quite prepares you for “You Or Mystery”, the story of a lonely neighbour who ends up dead in his own kitchen.

As with everything Crain does, the profound and the tragic is to be found in the tiniest detail.

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