A Small Death by Samantha CrainRelease date: July 17, 2020
Label: Real Kind Records
After the release of 2017’s You Had Me at Goodbye Oklahoma singer song-writer Samantha Crain had an unexpected life-changing experience. Her involvement in a car crash resulted in the loss of the use of her hands. One can only try to imagine the fear and anxiety this must have induced with the prospect of never being able to play guitar and create music again. Consequently, Samantha experienced a loss of confidence, and bouts of physical and mental ill health.
Fortunately, with the aid of therapy, medicine, and the returning capability of being able to use her hands again enabled her to relearn how to play guitar, which led to a quick burst of newly written songs that make up A Small Death. It is the sound of an artist who has gone through deep self-reflection and re-evaluation but also the relief and joy of being able to create music again. Her enthusiasm in being able to make a record probably helped her to make the decision to take full control and self-produce. It is also excitedly the first release by British folk musician Lucy Rose’s newly formed independent Real Kind Records.
The breadth of variation of styles across the eleven autobiographical songs are even more remarkable when the high rate of song-writing on offer is so consistent. There are the warm, tender introspective songs like ‘High Horse’ where Samantha’s smoky voice transfixes. Or echoes of the hushed beauty of the Cowboy Junkies on ‘Joey.’ Samantha veers into sparse acoustic guitar picking for the gorgeous ‘Tough For You.’ While on ‘Constructive Eviction’ the exquisite guitar lines and Samantha’s vocal delivery evokes the dreamy folk of Laura Veirs, before the song spreads wide into a full band and horns sonic uplift ending.
It is an album for those who love storytelling and the revealing of the life, reflections, and the very personal feelings of the artist. The album opener ‘An Echo’ mentions in a sentence that her mother is serving time in prison, as it profoundly recalls the emotional complexes of how a relationship can change over time. How a breakdown in communication can test a relationship’s strength, as the song travels from trouble in the air to one of potential hope. It is the album’s glue for what follows in the rest of the album.
The carefully constructed track-listing order projects the richly textured variety and range on offer across the eleven songs. The full band effect is put to fantastic use on the superbly infectious ‘Pastime.’ The subtle um um background vocals for the chorus, the acoustic chord guitar strum driven by a steady beat, and Samantha’s swooping vocals make this a song which so deserves wider radio play.
The sound of acoustic strumming is also used to stunning effect for another potentially best song contender as ‘Garden Dove’ sees Radiohead’s ‘Just’ acoustic tone laced with a grunge tinged darkness. Plus, an apt saxophone break elevates the song to an extra level, but once again Samantha’s vocals are key to evoking all the emotions for the listener.
Samantha’s song-writing and her excellent thoughtful singing styles twist and turn many responses for the listener, even if you haven’t quite got to the bottom of every song’s meaning or haven’t been through anything like what Samantha has, because there is something quite magical in these songs. They are very personal and are full of heart, and that in-itself gives them an extraordinary power.
I can’t recommend this album high enough. And I’m sure there is more to discover with further listens. But what has happened is on album number six Samantha Crain has made the transition from an artist full of promise to a great one. A Small Death is the sound of re-birth from the deep depths of adversity.