Samantha Crain @ Whelan’s - April 7th 2017

Tonight, sees the welcome return of Samantha to Ireland for a short tour, which includes dates in Dublin, Kilkenny and Cork. It has been a fast rise to prominence among her peers for this gifted song-writer and musician who has released 5 albums over an 8-year period, culminating in the current offering, You Had Me At Goodbye.

Her new release is strongly featured, as expected, with the first half of the show taken up with the live performance of the entire project, ten songs in all, played with a band that has been assembled for the tour. This is all the more remarkable when you consider the relatively short rehearsal time that the musicians must have had to get to know these songs and to add their individual touch to the overall arrangements. Credit Samantha in that she appears to be a very generous band leader who allows each player the space to play and stretch the songs into understated and complete performances.

Her previous catalogue has fallen into the reflective song-writer category often exploring the fracture of relationships, the failings of individuals to do the right thing and the broken-hearts that must mend as a result of so much chaos. She is an advocate for the underdog and often writes from a personal viewpoint but dressed in character songs.

The new release seems much more upbeat with bright arrangements and a strong sense of letting the songs go where they will go. One song, Red Sky, Blue Mountain is written in Choctaw, her native language, and the overall impression is of a musician who is wholly comfortable with her muse and delivering songs of a mature nature to augment her growing body of work.

Emma Gatrill plays oboe and delivers a performance that is very impressive as she swoops around the melodies and colours the arrangements with subtle touches that fit perfectly. Equally Mike Siddell on violin displays a virtuoso performance of embellishing the song structures with understated playing lines that harmonise perfectly with the oboe parts and lift the songs to increasingly interesting places. Ben Rubenstein on bass is a very steady player who keeps things simple but is always driving the songs forward with lyrical playing. Sebastian Hankins is a fine drummer who never overplays and tucks-in very neatly behind the acoustic playing of Samantha with little touches of class on percussion when not anchoring the beat for the more up-tempo songs.    

The attentive audience is treated to stories of self-absorbed asshole friends; Airport-naming in Oklahoma and a tribute to the wife of the legendary Will Rogers; name checks for Richard Thompson and the late Jason Molina; her best friend honoured in a song and her first cover of a song from Will D. Cobbe, When the Roses Bloom Again.

Samantha is very relaxed on stage and her fine voice and guitar style signpost the real depth that lies within this gentle soul who displays a persona of wanting to have fun onstage above all else. Finishing her show with a number of older songs, Outside The Pale, Santa Fe, Kathleen, Somewhere All The Time and encores of Elk City (solo) and For The Miner, we are left with the feeling that the only way is up for this gifted and intelligent artist who continues to win over more admirers as she grows into the years ahead and continues to produce work of real insight and meaning

Review and photograph by Paul McGee