Samantha Crain – Under Branch and Thorn and Tree Review

Samantha Crain sounds ready to be heard as she sings the first note on her latest album, “Under Branch and Thorn and Tree.” In contrast to her three earlier LPs, this record sounds fuller, as though it was made for a larger audience, which she may now have. Crain, 28, has garnered more press and perhaps confidence  in the past year particularly since her pacific protestation of the band Pink Horse’s use of Native American culture in her home state of Oklahoma.
Indeed, substantial themes of social justice, love and loss permeate this release of 11 (including one bonus track on some editions) songs all penned by Crain. On the song from where the title originates, “Outside the Pale”, she sings of “underdogs of human thought within the infrared” who “tell the stories the TV won’t release.”
Also impressive is that Crain’s sound, likely molded partly by sonic inspirations of Sharon Van Etten (as of recently), Sera Cahoone, Ingrid Michaelson (especially on “Moving Day”), and especially Brandi Carlisle, still sounds original, leaving the listener feeling inspired. Her voice, a rich blend of sweetness and pathos, is at turns haunting (“You or Mystery”) and at other times uplifting (“Kathleen”, the catchiest track and one of the album singles). Crain’s style lives up to its designation as folk Americana most on Elk City (“See I was 17/When I came to this place/ In a boyfriend’s Colt wagon On the 40 interstate”) and “Big Rock” (“Stuck on a rock with my worries so wide/ How do I smile and wave as they pass me by?”). The instrumentation, via John Vanderslice’s production, similarly alternates between spare and lusher. Despite the changes, the album fits well as an organic gestalt.
The record proper concludes with “Moving Day,” a touching lullaby to love – and seemingly to a particular love). Though on it, she exclaims, ” I’m not too proud…” Crain has plenty to take pride in with this set of songs.
Samantha Crain – Under Branch and Thorn and Tree = 8/10
Sem @underneathis

Sunday Suggestion – St. Vincent – Marrow

St. Vincent (Annie Clark) has received huge critical acclaim with her most recent effort and rightly so as far as I’m concerned. Her self titled fourth album was sublime; showcasing a hugely talented artist at work. The progression from her debut album Marry Me from 2007 and to St. Vincent this year is clear and her style was really honed and refined with songs such as Marrow from her second album Actor from 2009. The eerie lyrical twists and turns of the track are surrounded by a very sparse set up with distantly wailing vocals along with a pulse-like drum beat and gently scratching guitars. This sets the song up perfectly for the shot of Clark’s heavily reverberating and fuzzy guitar as urgently spells out for help. These swift switches of sound are carried off with such an effortlessness. She also controls her vocal as opposed to screaming over the noise and sits it just ahead of the raging guitars. Not only does this maintain the songs surreal feel, but it also accentuates the fuzzy guitar bursts. A profound and well formed track and she’d go on to do even more.

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