Kid Face, the third full-length album from Samantha Crain (Ramseur Records, February 19, 2013), is a revelatory song cycle as expansive as the wide-open spaces of the 26-year-old artist’s native Oklahoma, and as intimate as a conspiratorial whisper. Recorded and mixed in just eight days in the San Francisco studio of producer John Vanderslice (the Mountain Goats, Spoon), this wildly original album stands as the definitive statement thus far from an uncommonly insightful, fearlessly honest young singer/songwriter.
The most apparent thematic thread running through the album is restlessness. The first-person narrators of these 11 songs are in constant motion, as they feel the tug of the far horizon or the need to escape from their present circumstances, ruminating about what may lie ahead and what they’re leaving behind—roots, family, a lover.
Crain introduces the notion of covering ground in the opening song, the propulsive, fiddle-accented “Never Going Back,” and continues it on the following “Taught to Lie,” a minor-key confessional whose nomadic protagonist has “tried to move around, spent a while in Oregon/Then back to Oklahoma, ran around and had some fun.” Subsequently, this compulsive urge to keep moving pulses through the gossamer traditional folk of “Paint” (“I’m trying not to disappear/Into the shadows…”), the hushed piano ballad “The Pattern Has Changed” (“Changing my clothes though they’re the only thing I own now/Coming off the road though it’s the only way I know how…”), the incandescent title song (“Wrong light, driving on a low hung night/The border is just in sight, I can hear it hum…”) and the dark, smoldering “Sand Paintings,” which bears more than a trace of Crain’s “most constant” inspiration, Neil Young (“It’s the lightning hit the tower, all my westward driving hours/Please know my name…”). In the closing “We’ve Been Found,” which turns on the preternatural purity of Crain’s voice, a prodigal daughter makes her return. “I flew home before Christmas,” she sings. “She was gone, I know she misses/All of us, what if I had stayed?”
When asked about the impulse behind this prevailing theme, Crain explains, “The common element of these songs is me; I’m the narrator of all of them. This is the first record of mine that’s completely autobiographical. It’s the most personal record I’ve written, a musical journal of my experiences—things that have happened to me as I traveled and my thoughts about specific situations. In the past, I resisted writing about myself because I was ashamed of how normal I was.” She punctuates this admission with a quick laugh. “So I wrote about the people I met in my travels. But having done this for a few years, I’ve gained confidence, and this time I wanted to tap into the feeling of getting older and knowing more about myself. I think that makes the new record more relatable, more blue-collar.”