On “Never Going Back,” the opening track from Samantha Crain’s third LP Kid Face, she croons, “I had a deal with man and god, one let me down and one did not, so I made my way back home.” The poignancy of that sentiment sets the table for the remainder of the record, leaving open the idea that Crain has drawn from bouts of abandoning and embracing humanity, spiritually perhaps, and with fantastic candor.
Since the disbandment of her former group The Midnight Shivers, Crain has embarked on a vision quest of sorts, mapping out new corners of her Americana oeuvre to include flirtations with classic country and more delicate experiments in brooding indie-pop, such as is found on a track like “The Pattern Has Changed.” In the song, Crain crafts a miserable image of a down-and-out character who’s “cleaning the sink ‘cause I can’t think of nothin’ to do,” and who later is “going to shows, counting my toes and crying over you.” That this is Crain’s most autobiographical collection of music yet is therefore kind of a downer piece of information. But by Crain’s own admission, she’s not much for writing love songs. Masking them, as she does, inside compositions both peppy and downtrodden is just another in a long line of gratifying treasures found on Kid Face.
Crain’s gifts for storytelling, and for injecting overarching mantras, leave her raw compositions as anthemic as they are gloomy. Slow-burning numbers like “Taught to Lie” add a textural diversity that’s as much Mazzy Star as Neko Case.
Crain channels the redemptive spirit of Lucinda Williams on the title track, sparking a campfire shuffle, beautifully cadenced and offset by subtle sonic accoutrements that sound like cellos, but knowing Crain’s playfulness with regard to accompaniment—and producer John Vanderslice’s enigmatic approach—could just as well be sneaky organ-synth flourishes. And through it all are Crain’s vulnerable, cathartic vocal takes that convince you of her burgeoning mastery.
Consider “Somewhere All the Time,” a country-western confessional that encapsulates Crain’s skewed embrace of her contentment as a woman in a world of wanderlust who sometimes just wants to relax. There are bouts of nomadic fancy, to be sure, and no one could critique Crain for lack of global ambition; her relentless touring regimen is proof enough of that. Still, it doesn’t make it any less thematically engaging than when potential lyrical dichotomies like “Somebody better say a prayer for me ‘cause I need a break from this whole scene” lead to conclusions like “Everybody wants to go all the time, don’t you ever wanna sit down some and take a little time?”
Through literary wormholes like this, Crain has invited the listener to eavesdrop on her internal and often contradictory dialogues. That she’s able to do so without shame is one of Kid Face’s crowning achievements and more evidence of Crain’s brilliant, though still-developing talents.