"Let the Night Sort of Guide Itself": Samantha Crain Hews to Unique, "Handmade" Sound

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Samantha Crain’s rich voice and offbeat tone have earned her compliments as a unique singer, but it’s Crain’s heart-on-her-sleeve songwriting and her storytelling during live performances that make her truly special.

Crain’s studio recordings are intimate, great for a quiet weekend afternoon or a long road trip — like, say, one across her home state of Oklahoma. But her live shows come across as more of a night out with a good girlfriend. She laughs at her own jokes and tells the personal stories behind upcoming songs. Her on-stage stories, like her lyrics, touch on desire, breakups, rural living, nature, her Native American heritage and her own insecurities.

“I try and inform people of my thoughts through sometimes comedic stories between songs and just let the night sort of guide itself, instead of me forcing a perfect set,” says Crain.

Her childlike speaking voice and small laugh hide the stop-in-your-tracks strength of her singing voice. She can move from a soft, vulnerable bridge to an accusatory chorus with little transition in between.

Crain’s distinctive voice and folksy sound could earn her an “indie” classification, but her themes and instrumentation combine for more of a country twist. In fact, Crain’s manager, Dolphus Ramseur of Ramseur Records, compares her “handmade” sound with that of country greats, noting that what truly comes across is her authenticity.

“When you hear someone like Willie Nelson or someone like Hank Williams Sr., you know it’s them,” Ramseur says. “That’s the same with Samantha.”

For Crain, music is an outlet for emotional expression; she calls herself “cold and oblivious” in real life, “so art is really the only time I’m able to just let go and be truly emotional.”

The singer-songwriter’s Denver appearance comes on the heels of her thirtieth birthday and seven days in a recording studio putting together her yet-to-be-named fifth full-length album. She says that time on the road is a catalyst for creativity, even as she has dropped her touring schedule from ten months a year to about four.

“I definitely have more of a sense of home now...but discovering and feeling a bit uncomfortable is what moves me to make art,” Crain says.

Although she has said that each new album starts as a blank slate, time and age are also key elements to Crain’s creative process: “The thing that has made making records easier through the years, for me, has more to do with getting older. The older I get, the more confidence I have.... I’m not scared to fail or seem weird.”

The new album, on which strings are featured prominently, displays Crain’s willingness to shift her sound.
“It’s moving in a more experimental direction than my past records,” she says, keeping quiet on the rest of the details so as not to burden the project with expectations.

Ramseur has watched the progression of Crain’s career and agrees that growing up has enhanced the quality of her records and her songwriting. “Samantha is just scratching the surface,” he says. “I think she is just going to continue to get better.”

Like many, Ramseur recalls being moved by Crain’s unique voice early on. But he comes back to her live performance: Witnessing the connections she creates with her audience is what truly won him over.

“Samantha is very witty from the stage. I think for all the women out there playing with just one guitar around America, she’s the best.”

Samantha Crain
8 p.m. Thursday, August 25, Lion’s Lair, 2022 East Colfax Avenue, $10, 303-320-9200. 

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