INTERVIEW: Samantha Crain, A Renaissance

Every artist is once in a lifetime. Each artist, no matter their Spotify streams, brings something new to the table. Never discount somebodies’ artistry.

Although finding an artist that speaks straight to your soul individually, that’s a rare occurrence. Samantha Crain is one of those artists.

There is something about artists from the southern/midwest. Authenticity and truth seem to run deep in their blood. Everything in their music is pure. From absolute joy to utter heartbreak, these artists respect everything life brings their way. Crain’s is of Choctaw descent. Words cannot describe how this element affects her music. It’s there. It’s extraordinary.

I was introduced to Crain’s music through her fourth album, Under Branch and Thorn and Tree. The song “Elk City” immediately spoke to me, as it takes place in Oklahoma, my home. As the album continued, song after song, I found an emotional connection to the entire album, especially with “Killer,” “When You Comeback,” and “Moving Day.”

Through various circumstances, Crain and I connected, and she agreed to an interview with Vinyl Culture. Her raw truth and authenticity show in her answers and I couldn’t be happier she took the time.


1. You draw inspiration from your Oklahoma roots especially in songs like “Elk City.” What inspires you about Oklahoma?

Honestly, I think Elk City might be the only song I’ve ever written that actually took place in Oklahoma. I mean I obviously have an attachment to Oklahoma, as I’m from here and currently live here, but I’m largely inspired by leaving Oklahoma and traveling and seeing things outside of my roots. I personally don’t see the “Oklahoma roots” in my music but that’s what’s great about art, everyone can see something different in the same thing!

2. Your Choctaw lineage plays a large part in both your music (“Red Sky, Blue Mountain”) and activism. Where do you find the most inspiration in your heritage?

I think it is really important to understand when asking about how Indigenous artists implement their heritage into their art that people understand, for most tribes, their heritage was completely stripped from them by way of land theft, breaking of treaties, federally implemented assimilation boarding schools, genocide, abuse and marginalization from missionaries, colonization, disease, forced impoverishment, shame, etc. Most Indigenous artists are relying on holding on to the little bits that have managed to be passed down to them and keeping modern Indigenous art alive by creating new traditions and learning their languages again. Every note I make is Choctaw music because I am Choctaw.

3. You are not supposed to have favorite children, but out of all your albums, which one is your most favorite and most personal?

Sorry, can’t pick a favorite child.

4. In the end, what do you want people to walk away with after they listen to a Samantha Crain record?

To be honest, I make records to express myself. I don’t make records for a listener. I love that people connect to what I’m doing and I love to hear those stories, but I do not make music or records with anything in mind as far as what I want people to experience within them.

5. How does it feel to receive recognition from others with similar Native American roots as a Nammie Award winner and to be nominated for an Indigenous Music Award this year?

Good, I guess? I think the battle to be won though is to get to a societal point where Indigenous artists are actually included in the major awards like the Grammys and the Juno awards, and we don’t have to have our own award shows, and categories within the award shows.

And then just a few for fun…

1. What are you currently listening too?

Nilufer Yanya, The Japanese House, Sam Amidon, Jorja Smith, Justine Skye, William Tyler, This Is the Kit, Cocteau Twins, King Krule

2. It’s a lovely, slightly hot, weekend afternoon in Oklahoma. Where are you?

Probably just in my backyard honestly. I travel so much that I’m more or less a major homebody when I’m home.

3. Do you collect anything while on the road?

I collect music boxes, wall thermometers, and thimbles.

4. Where is your favorite place to perform?

Every show I’ve ever had in Washington DC and Glasgow have been excellent, so I guess the people in those cities just get me.


Currently, Crain is working on new music and about to embark on a tour of Europe. She has five albums out, and each brings a new contortion of emotion, authenticity, lyricism, and musicianship. They all have their own identity, yet they all flow together seamlessly.

Crain is one of those artists you cannot un-hear. From her multifaceted lyrics, pure, yet raw voice, and steady guitar, her music is a renaissance not only in folk music, but music created by those with indigenous heritage.

Samantha Crain is simply a must listen. Now that you are done reading this interview, head on over to her official site and check out everything that is Samantha Crain and buy a vinyl and maybe a t-shirt.


   

INTERVIEW: Boys Called Susan, A Raw and Authentic Beginning

There is something about rural America. It runs through us all. It’s where our heritages began as Americans.

The qualities of rural America are simple and universal. These qualities include dignity and authenticity to despair and pain. Rural America is beautiful, raw and real. That’s where the story of Boys Called Susan starts. Boys Called Susan is two cousins, Bryan Russo and Christopher Shearer. Both are seasoned musicians but haven’t worked cohesively together up until their debut album, Pennsyltucky….

Check out the full article on Nashville Noise here.

INTERVIEW: Griffin Anthony, Finding Refuge

It is not often you find voices that change the way you listen to music.

When I first heard Griffin Anthony, I had just moved to New York from Oklahoma. I had completely new surroundings and didn’t know a soul, yet music was my pillar. Throughout my whole life, music has been a constant comforter and protector. This became very apparent when I dove into collecting vinyl, a hobby that kept me busy in my first lonely months here. Music became my refuge in a new world.

Music also took a new place in my life when I began to proactively write and blog about my favorite choices and artists. My writings have brought me into contact with some amazing musicians. That’s exactly how I got word of Griffin Anthony’s music.

Griffin’s voice is authentic. I believe it ranks with some of the greatest modernand classic country artists, from Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson to Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. Griffin’s unique vocal interpretations mixed with his ingenious songwriting makes for a prolific adventure in song. He has created a new standard in how I consume music.

Refuge, Griffin Anthony’s latest album, follows this same tradition. The album picks up where he left off with 2015’s The Making of a ManRefuge shows the raw beauty and nuance of maturing both artistically and as a human being. I caught up with Anthony recently to gain his thoughts on the new album and to explore what he has accomplished with this new volume of songs.


What does the album title Refuge mean? How does it relate to the songs?

“The album’s title suggests a destination where safe-haven (or happiness) exists. And the tunes trace narratives of men and women on their quest to find that destination; together or alone, through failures and celebrations. The word ‘refuge’ also drums up a ‘rustic’ and ‘natural’ connotation- which ties into some of the lyrical themes, the style of production, and album artwork.”

What message or messages would you like listeners to take away from this album? Is there a central theme?

“I really tried to somehow capture the feeling of Hope with each tune. Jon Estes and I spoke at length about that during our pre-production pow-wows and tracking. From a songwriting perspective, no matter how much uncertainty the main character is dealing with, he or she still maintains that better days are ahead. There are tunes on celebrate oxytocin-drenched romance, the joys of parenting, and the beauty of nature- where the personal and the pastoral converge… On the other hand, the album wades into some murkier waters of escapism, separation, isolation, the construct of religion, and the horrors of war.”

This album was made purely analog. Why did you choose to go this route?

“Well, most of the music that moves me was recorded that way. ‘Refuge’ is intended to be a refreshing departure from the sterilized sounds of the digital age. It’s human. There’s nothing to hide behind and I think that translates through the music. Elements of the performances I may have once regarded as ‘mistakes’ become ‘moments”… There are more rough-ends on this project and I love that about it. With the convenience of digital recording, it’s way too easy to clean shit up and quite often, it results in white-washing all the emotion… Everything just becomes antiseptic and colorless. Plus, I don’t want to sound like a robot, ya know?”

Pick one song. What is the story behind the song and what is the inspiration?

” ‘1954’ is probably my favorite tune on the album for a couple reasons; one, because I feel the understated musical arrangement best supports the lyric, and two, because of what the song represents as a storyteller… On the ten-year anniversary of D-day, the subject reflects on his past and tries to cope with the meaning of war; balancing pride and ambition with humility and loss. During a time in US history that’s often celebrated for it’s economic prosperity and baby-boom, PTSD wasn’t ever discussed… The glory associated with that era overshadows what my grandfathers and hundreds of thousands of young men had to endure.”

How does this album pair with your previous album, The Making of A Man?

” ‘The Making of a Man’ has more overall melody and hooks for sure. And aside from the completely different production approaches of two very different producers and session bands, I wrote ‘The Making of a Man’ on the piano- whereas ‘Refuge’ was written predominantly on the acoustic. ‘Refuge’ has a greater focus on lyrics-first song construction and capturing a live performance. Plus, I’m five years older from when I wrote “The Making of a Man.” I’ve experienced some life-defining highs and lows in that period- I’d like to think that contributes to a sharper pen.”


 

“Refuge” listens like planks of an old oak tree. Each piece is distinctively different, but they all fit together. Anthony has woven an intricate placement of work that possesses universal truths in tandem with nature. This album serves as a vanguard to musical authenticity in a world of manufactured melodies.

As Griffin Anthony alluded in the answers above, this album suggests a destination in the proverbial journey of life, mixed with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This album accomplishes its mission by providing a safe harbor, a refuge, for all those seeking a glimpse of truth with a glimmer of hope.

PURCHASE Refugee ON ITUNES HERE

MUSIC REVIEW: Cher, The Sonny Side of Cher

Anybody that knows me or has just steadily kept up with my blog knows that I am unapologetic Cher fan. I have nearly all her albums, read numerous books on this legend, and I buy concert tickets whenever she performs. Naturally, I would have to write about her for Women’s History Month.

My Copy of The Sonny Side of CherTonight, for a little nostalgia, I decided to revisit The Sonny Side of Cher. This album is important to understanding Cher’s career trajectory and how she became the artist she is today. I truly believe she is one of the best, yet underrated, vocalists of our time.

The Sonny Side of Cher opens with Cher’s biggest solo hit to that time “Bang, Bang.” This Sonny penned tune is a tale of two lovers explained as children. I love this composition. I love the exotic feel this song brings. It sounds a bit country at times, it is definitely pop, it takes advantage of 60’s folk, and there is a little Scottish flare for fun. It’s easy to see how this song claimed the number 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Elusive Butterfly” and “The Girl From Ipanema” are among Cher fan’s favorites from this era in her career, but the songs that really take the cake for this album are “Old Man River” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” a Bob Dylan cover.

“Old Man River” comes in at number 1 on this album for me, right behind “Bang Bang.” When I hear Cher sings this song I just picture tears streaming out of some bodies deeply wounded eyes. I literally feel I can reach into this song and drench myself in emotion.

If you have any interest in Cher’s career or the culture of the 60’s, this album is essential. As a bonus, this record is sprinkled with Phil Spector’s fingerprints as Sonny Bono, once Spector’s employee, produces the full album. This is pre “glam” Cher, but post “I Got You Babe” Cher. This small era in her career was a gem in her soon to be legendary status.

Key Tracks: “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” “Elusive Butterfly,” “The Girl From Ipanema”

Deep Cuts: “Old Man River,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Where Do you Go”

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ALBUM REVIEW: Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues

Google defines country music as a form of popular music originating in the rural southern US. It is traditionally a mixture of ballads and dance tunes played characteristically on fiddle, guitar, steel guitar, drums, and keyboard.

May I also add its contents include whiskey, women, cheating, drinking, and the occasional loss of a dog.

Google defines soul music as a kind of music incorporating elements of rhythm and blues and gospel music, popularized by African-Americans. Characterized by an emphasis on vocals and an impassioned improvisatory delivery.

May I also add that it often gives you those dancing feet and you may occasionally utter a positive “mmm” or “come on.”

Lastly, since this is not a test study sheet, Google defines folk music as music that originates in traditional popular culture or that is written in such a style.

May I also add it usually has a heavy guitar influence and imagery.

Now add them all together.

Country+Soul+Folk= Justin Townes Earle

My first encounter with Earle was through Wanda Jackson. He produced her latest studio album, Unfinished Business. He duets with Jackson on “Am I Even a Memory.” That became my favorite song off the album, and it spurred my interest in Earle. This album was produced to pristine detail.

Justin Townes Earle is the son of famed country musician Steve Earle. He has released 1 etownEP and 5 albums. I recently found his fourth album Harlem City Blues at Guestroom Records in OKC. I wasn’t exactly expecting what I heard. The album touches a wide array of subjects including suicide, breakups, loneliness, the need to leave, and coming back.

The album opens with its title’s namesake, “Harlem City Blues.” This song envokes every genre I discussed previously. The music is distinctly country, the tempo is folksy, and Earle’s voice contains the soul. This song makes me think it is touching suicide, for he states “dirty water is going to cover me over and I’m not gonna make a sound.” Although dark in content, this song possesses a positive sense of spirituality.

The album then goes into “One More Night in Brooklyn.” He talks about leaving town with his woman. I love the beat to this one. It’s almost “island-like.” This is an addictive tune. You then have a hoe down with “Move Over Mama.” Next is the song “Workin for the MTA.” This song especially evokes the essence of folk music, it’s about hard work in what I believe would either be mines or the building of train tracks. It has a purpose and mission. I see a man walking lonely through a desolate area dragging a sledgehammer when I listen to this song. It’s a great slow down moment for the album.

The last song on Side A is “Wanderin.” This is one of my top two favorites off the album. For this song’s face value, it talks about wandering over areas and personal situations, but deeper than that, it’s about reflecting on life and spirituality. It is a modern day “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” You have to wonder to find home.

My second favorite on this album is “Christchurch Woman.” The song talks about waiting for a woman. He talks of how he is waiting for a “Christchurch woman in the rain, and the rain keeps comin, but it ain’t enough to cover the pain.” You can feel pain in Earle’s voice as he is wanting that certain someone, yet even he admits he’ll probably get tired of her later in the song. This song could be comforting to those who are waiting. Waiting gets easier with each passing day, and you might even realize it’s not the right thing after all.

The closing song, besides a choir reprise of “Harlem City Blues,” is “Rogers Park.” The songs opens up with a beautiful piano arrangement and it carries throughout. It is like Earle is walking through a small town park, reminiscing on his life and what could and can be. This shows the genius of Earle’s songwriting. My favorite lyric: “There ain’t no hope in leaving them. There ain’t no prayer for the poor and all that’s lost in stealing. She can’t hold me anymore.” and a choral line of “Punching holes in the dark.” Let the interpretations begin…

In the end, this record is not of any genre. The country musical influence is dominant, thebloodshot records storytelling of folk is there, and Earle’s voice is extremely soulful. I find this album to be remarkable. Earle is multitalented, being able to produce, perform, and write: a musical triple threat.

Although I’m not ready to let that ol’ dirty water run over me, I am ready for my Christchurch woman in the rain, and more importantly, I can’t wait to purchase another Justin Townes Earle album.