Samantha Crain makes good time. Where the Shawnee singer/songwriter stands today is miles away from the road she walked in 2007. That year's rootsy "Confiscation" EP is now a faint flicker on the horizon' a bluesy moment that she worked through with last year's "Songs in the Night," a transitional album where Crain leaned on a full band to help her down the road.
Her latest, "You (Understood)," drops later this month, and is our first real glimpse of a Crain without the weight of her memory. Songwriters easily evolve into cynics, but Crain has never let herself off with easy sarcasm. Lyrically, "You (Understood)" is markedly less of an introspection than her previous efforts; this album is about another. Whether "You" is meant in a singular sense or a broad exposition is irrelevant. What matters is that she's been paying close attention, possibly taking notes, and studying everything about "You."
"Holdin' That Wheel" rides the centerline, gently weaving between deadpan and dead-serious. While Crain's subject has managed to keep her from making any "hard turns," she's still suspicious enough to keep one eye open at all times.
"You make wonderful patterns, with your breathing when you sleep / But it's so shallow and sleight, you look like you are dying," she sings, before judging the unconscious mind of her observed. Dreams indicate intentions, which manifests into the sleeping's saccharine smile, which "makes you brazen" and "that makes you a man."
The more amplified "Two-Sidedness" features dissonant electric guitars and effects-laded vocals. A surprising bagpipe line crescendos through the end, sounding more like a square-wave synthesizer lead than a double reed. The song is among Crain's least earthy and most natural.
"Blueprints" is a bit softer, musically. The drums are appealingly woody and gentle strings are bowed underneath Crain, who sings her lead atop her own contrasting counter melodies, giving a fairly standard tune an ethereal quality.
Crain has retained her frayed vocal charm, but has yet to oversell it, or let anyone convince her to do so. Her folksy charm is still there, but the new album a delight. It's unexpected in almost every way and was timed to arrive just when you thought "You (Understood)."
For more information, visit www.samanthacrain.com. "Joe Wertz