Samantha Crain is nothing if not versatile, churning out albums as if they were selling them in Tiger. But this is no one trick pony. With six albums under her belt, her catalogue spans a range of styles and genres but her Oklahoman roots run deep and branch out from the heart of every song. Tonight she’ll be performing her latest album You Had Me at Goodbye from start to finish. “If that’s alright with y’all”. Accompanied by beer swigging band members on bass, drums, violin and clarinet. Starting off on a playful note with ‘Antiseptic Greeting’ and ‘Oh Dear Louis’, with vocal breaks that are punctuated with dance moves from the band.
Taking the tone down a notch on the next track ‘Loneliest Handsome Man’, followed by ‘Wise One’ where we see her vocal range reach new heights. But the undeniable highlight of the night for me is on her next track ‘Red Sky, Blue Mountain’ written and performed entirely in Choctaw, a Native American language with just 2,500 speakers. “I’m gonna take a wild guess here and say that nobody in this room speaks Choctaw … No? Not even like enough to order a cab?”. The band take a step back and we’re drawn in by a mystical guitar riff. With vocals that are drenched in emotion, music transcending language to make her message known. A lament for a language and tradition at threat of disappearance. It’s the most connected I’ve felt to the singer all night. I only wish there were more of this.
The next song ‘Smile When’ is a faintly psychedelic thing complete with bass distortion and superfluous clarinet sounds. ‘Windmill Crusader’ is preceded by an anecdote about the song’s origin which, she tells us, gleaned inspiration from the moment in a horror film when the audience is willing the character on screen to look behind them – “six albums in you gotta start digging you know”. (Choctaw Samantha. Go digging in the realms of Choctaw music. Please.) The band leave the stage momentarily and sparse cries of “one more tune” are received. With just Samantha and her instrument returning to the stage. A stunning and intricate fingerpicking piece that shatters any illusion there may have been that the woman doesn’t know her way around a guitar.
The album now finished has been played from start to finish and we’re left with her vast catalogue to choose from. Folding back into these songs like the arms of an old lover. The other band members return for ‘Outside the Pale’ and the anthemic ‘Santa Fe’, finishing the night on a melancholic note with ‘For the Minor’. “I promised I wouldn’t keep finishing gigs on a downer” she bemoans. Flitting between playfulness and poignancy with each track. There is an atmosphere of warmth and unity in Whelan’s tonight and Samantha’s infectious on-stage presence balances the change in mood with ease. Evoking a sense that we are all in this thing together and whatever comes our way we had better laugh, cry, drink beer and make music about it.