Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter Samantha Crain’s fifth album You Had Me At Goodbye shows off her folk balladry and experimental spirit with a greater pop emphasis. Written in her home state at the back end of winter and recorded by John Vanderslice at his Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco, You Had Me… makes for a luxurious if over-rich listen.
In its cosy atmosphere and lush woodwind and string instruments, You Had Me… follows in the lineage of recent records like Eleanor Friedberger’s New View and Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut. Friedberger’s influence is particularly evident on opener Antiseptic Greeting, a delightful slice of pop perfection which sees Crain cleverly fretting over social faux pas while out grocery shopping or at a café, backed by tinkling xylophone, building piano and gently rolling drums. From the violin counter-play on the rollicking Oh Dear Louis to the tenor sax solo on Wise One, You Had Me… sounds positively sumptuous and full of creativity, with Crain showcasing the versatility of her vocals in the haunting acoustic ballad Red Sky, Blue Mountain, sung entirely in her native Choctaw language.
‘You’ve always given such careful attention to just the right amount of disarray,’ Crain croons on the piano ballad Loneliest Handsome Man, but it’s in her temptation to let the disarray overwhelm that You Had Me… loses some of its power, with Vanderslice’s over-stuffed production overwhelming the singer at points. Vanderslice’s inability to leave good alone becomes particularly egregious in the second half of the album as Windmill Crusader swings wildly between creepy synthesiser and lounge ballad, and the mournful When The Roses Bloom is sullied by intrusive clarinet. It’s in the country-tinged closer Wreck that You Had Me… finds redemption, showing that Crain’s at her best when her voice is allowed to speak for itself.
Listen to: Wreck; Red Sky, Blue Mountain