Samantha Crain, Bombadil

Late Show

Samantha Crain

Bombadil

Tue, July 23, 2013

Doors: 9:30 pm

Mercury Lounge

New York, NY

$10 advance / $12 day of show

This event is 21 and over

Samantha Crain - (Set time: 10:30 PM)
Samantha Crain
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.”

Instantly accessible by way of the ecstatic melodic lifts embedded in each song, which enable Crain to explore the full range of her powerful but achingly vulnerable voice, Kid Face gradually reveals its depth and nuance over repeated listenings. Crisp, vivid images and liquid internal rhymes betray Crain’s painterly attention to texture and the minutest detail. No song overstays its welcome, as she exhibits a rarefied economy of expression, an open-ended willingness to leave certain things unsaid, to resist the urge to dissect the mysteries of life.

As it turns out, Crain came to her gift obliquely. “It may seem odd, but wanting to travel preceded my wanting to get good at songwriting and performing,” she confesses. “In fact, I started playing music in order to travel. Living in a small town in Oklahoma, there wasn’t much going on, and I got itchy, so I started going out on the road and playing everywhere that would have me. At that time, a few years ago, the coffeehouse circuit was more welcoming than it is now; usually, all I had to do to get a show was to send a demo to the booker.” Initially hitting the road as a duo with her roommate at the time, Crain began to satisfy her desperate need for raw material, and her experiences “traveling and meeting people and getting to see different places” began to feed and animate her songwriting, about which she was becoming increasingly passionate. In a sense, then, Crain was following in the footsteps of an earlier Oklahoma-born troubadour, Woody Guthrie.

A Choctaw Indian, Crain grew up in the small town of Shawnee listening to her father’s Dylan and Grateful Dead records, dabbling in painting (a pursuit she took seriously enough to later land a gallery exhibition in Oklahoma City) and trying her hand at writing short stories. When she became intrigued by the notion of writing songs, Crain reworked a series of stories she’d written while taking creative writing classes at Oklahoma Baptist University into the songs she then recorded for her self-released EP, The Confiscation: A Musical Novella. The quality of the material and the bold way in which she delivered it inspired North Carolina-based Ramseur to sign the fledgling artist to a deal; the indie label gave the EP a proper release in 2007. The Confiscation revealed the then-21-year-old newcomer “as a promising young storyteller with fealty to ragged, country-driven indie-pop and an alluring dark streak,” wrote The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica.

Crain made Songs in the Night (2009), her debut album—and her first proper recording—with the Midnight Shivers, a band she’d formed not long beforehand. It got the attention of Rolling Stone reviewer Will Hermes, who wrote, “Her voice is gorgeously odd—all fulsome, shape-shifting vowels that do indeed billow like fog.” She followed it a year later with the stripped-down You (Understood) (2010), recorded in a converted barn in Wichita, exposing the primal extreme of her sensibility. “Like a prairie-bred, meat-and-potatoes Joanna Newsom, Crain’s vocals are quivering, emotive and visceral,” noted Liz Stinson in Paste.

If these albums demonstrate Crain’s skills as an observer of the nuances of character and human interaction, this new work shows she possesses the bravery to probe her own psyche as her journey turns inward.

Counterbalancing Crain’s wanderlust is a rootedness that exerts just as strong a pull. “I’ve lived in other places these last few years, but never for long,” she says. “Coming back home brings me perspective and focus.” These leavening aspects are as integral to the impact of her songs as the experiences that inspired her to write them.

Ultimately, the movement in the songs of Kid Face is purposeful, as Crain searches for herself and her place in the universe. Think of Kid Face as a key early chapter in what promises to be an extended, enthralling personal saga. Woody would have been proud.
Bombadil - (Set time: 9:30 PM)
Bombadil
Bombadil¹s last album was almost its swan song. The quartet of singers, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists - Stuart Robinson, Daniel Michalak, Bryan Rahija and James Phillips ­ recorded All That the Rain Promises in ten days, while living in a barn in Oregon. The barn was so cold, they had to warm their hands by a wood-burning stove between takes. The album¹s sparkling blend of folk, rock and gentle psychedlia earned rave reviews, but Michalak¹s continuing hand problems made the future look grim. He¹d developed a case of neural tension that made playing and driving painful. They toured sporadically and weren’t sure about the future of the band.

Happily, a regimen of relaxation and stretching exercises has Michalak¹s pain under control, and the band is rebuilding its momentum. They spent most of 2012 touring and recording the songs that became Metrics of Affection. The album is their most melodic and adventurous outing yet, a cornucopia of styles marked by mischievously surrealistic lyrics and their familiar lush harmonies. Their inventive arrangements add funk, country, boogie woogie, rap, early rock and hints classic pop songwriting, circa 1940, to their
already eclectic sound.

“We produced the album ourselves,” Robinson says. “We recorded in our house in Old North Durham. James [Phillips, our drummer] engineered it in our home studio. It¹s the first time we recorded at home, instead of going somewhere to make a record. It was also the first time that we used drum machines, synths and samplers. James sang more on this record than ever before, Daniel rapped for the first time, Bryan wrote a cello part for the first time and I recorded pitched wine glasses for the first time. We all write songs and
we¹re not afraid of jumping out of our box to write any kind of song we like, whether it¹s classical, hip-hop, punk or bluegrass.”

Metrics of Affection is an embarrassment of riches, 13 tracks of pop without boundaries, brimming over with bubbly energy and masterful songwriting. A subtle drum loop, simple piano triplets and slide guitar, ala George Harrison, give “Angeline” a swooning energy to match its bright, playful lyric. “Boring Country Song” is actually a literate, lyrical ode to the missed connections that make relationships so difficult; its luxurious
cascading harmonies and sparse piano will send chills down your spine. Bluegrass banjo and hip hop rhythms collide on “Born at Five,” a song that tells the story of an ordinary man¹s life in three minutes, a really remarkable piece of songwriting. The melody of “When We Are Both Cats” has the infuriating catchiness of a nursery rhyme. It¹s a bouncy folk rock tune with Mersybeat cello, subliminal organ and unexpected snare drum accents, highlighting a cryptic conversation between a boy and girl who don¹t quite connect. The hook is a line spoken by Penelope Cruz in the movie Vanilla Sky ­ “I¹ll tell you in another life, when we are both cats.” Bombadil rapping? Well, yes, sort of. “Escalators” opens like an old fashion pop tune, with cuatro and gorgeous four part harmonies. Then it morphs into a slow rock ballad, featuring a melancholy trumpet line played by Michael Stipe to support Michalak¹s vocal, a staccato sing/talk performance full of tongue twisting internal rhymes that land somewhere between Grandmaster Flash and Fred Astaire. Every track is crammed with little musical and lyrical touches that will pop your ears, twist your brain and tickle your heart with their unexpected flashes of playful wit.

Bombadil is as much a family as a band, a collective of like-minded friends who just happen to be talented and innovative musicians and multi-instrumentalists. Like all families, they¹ve had their share of ups and downs, break ups and reunions, but the long road they¹ve traveled together has made their bond closer and their music more emotional and intimate.

Stuart Robinson met Daniel Michalak on a hiking trip during a pre-orientation program at Duke University in 2002. They started making music on Michalak¹s laptop, playing keyboards, singing and writing songs together. In 2004, Michalak went to Bolivia as an exchange student and ran into Bryan Rahija. They¹d played together in a cover band, but didn¹t become friends until they met in Bolivia. After discovering they had similar ideas
about songwriting, they began making demos. After hearing the band’s music, a friend suggested they call themselves Bombadil, after Tom Bombadil, the singing, songwriting character in “The Hobbit.” With Daniel¹s brother John on drums, they became a quartet and put up a few newly completed songs on their MySpace page.

Dolph Ramseur, head of Ramseur Records, loved what he heard on the band¹s MySpace page and caught their live show soon afterward. He was impressed by their energy and signed them. He helped them book shows, hone their sound and make records, including the Bombadil EP in 2006, A Buzz, A Buzz in 2008 and Tarpits and Canyonlands in 2009. In 2007, a Craigslist ad had turned up drummer James Phillips, a long time Bombadil fan, and he joined the band just as A Buzz, A Buzz was being completed. The band was getting rave reviews for their lively, chaotic shows and brilliant albums, which drew not unwarranted comparisons to The Beatles. Then things fell apart. Robinson said he wanted to leave the band and Daniel Michalak was slowly losing the use of his hands due to his neural tension condition.

By the time Tarpits and Canyonlands was released, Robinson had quit and the band was on hiatus, hoping Michalak¹s hands would heal enough for him to play music again. Next, John Michalak left to go to medical school. It looked like the end of the line, but the call of the muse was too strong to resist. On his own, Robinson had been writing songs and asked Michalak and Rahija to help him flesh out his ideas. Rest and therapy helped Michalak regain the use of his hands, and the reborn quartet moved into Pendavavis Farm near Portland, OR (where the Decemberists recorded The King Is Dead), to record All That the Rain Promises. They toured sparingly to support the album, but with the band whole and healthy, and Metrics of Affection recorded and ready for its July 23 release date, Bombadil is back, on tour and intent on fulfilling their dream of writing great songs and touching people with their powerful stage show.
Venue Information:
Mercury Lounge
217 E Houston St.
New York, NY, 10002
http://mercuryloungenyc.com