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.


   

PLAYLIST: Nina Simone, A Calm Exhaust

Sometimes you are at a loss for words. Then you listen to Nina Simone….and you are still at a loss for words.

Lately, I have binge-listened to Nina Simone. I don’t really like to write over her because it’s so hard to put words to her voice, but I feel the need to say something.

Simone’s voice is complex. Her voice pierces my soul. When I put on one of her records, I may feel whole, but by the time the album makes its final spin, I’m mush. This happens every single time. As exhausting as this sounds, she is still one of my go-to comfort vinyl. Her voice calmly exhausts me.

I could literally write a book over each Nina Simone album I listen to, but for the sake of brevity, I wanted to compile a list of my current favorites. Although it is safe to note, this list may change by the time this article is published.


1. “Mood Indigo” from Little Girl Blue

This song does me in by many artists, but Simone’s upbeat version takes me astray. Instead of the songs usual instrumentation of gloom, it takes on a new feeling with an upbeat tempo.

2. “Papa, Can You Hear Me” from A Single Woman

All music theater and jazz fans know this song from Barbra Streisand and the movie Yentl. Nina Simone’s version is very different, not just in a vocal sense, but an emotional one. Simone didn’t have a close relationship with her father and this song serves as a solemn farewell plea.

3. “The Other Woman” – “Cotton Eyed Joe” from Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall

What I hate about this song is how autobiographical it became for Nina Simone. The song is a tear-jerker, especially with the emotion Simone evokes. What I do love is how well she captures the true essence of this song’s lyrics. She lived it in more ways than one.

4. “Go to Hell” from Silk and Soul

Simone’s mid to late career was mirrored in bluntness. This song, from what I would argue is one of her most iconic studio albums, continues this tradition.

5. “Summertime” Instrumental and Vocal from Nina Simone At Town Hall

When Simone plays the piano, I can feel her fingers hit the keys. Now, this may be my imagination, but this factor stuns me with this song in particular. Her vocals are nonchalant. It sounds like Simone is just saying words that come to mind as she goes through this classic.


What does it mean for an artist or piece of music to pierce your soul? I don’t have the answer. These are just the words that distinctly come to mind every-time I listen to Simone. I’m not sure if a digital file could quite do it like vinyl. It’s gut-wrenching and unexplainable when on this medium. It steals my words. There are layers to our bodies and emotions, yet Nina Simone skips every level to strike the deepest.

This playlist barely touches the brim of what Simone means to me. She expresses the highest highs and the lowest lows that I’ve only experienced with Judy Garland as well. With each listen, she strikes that exact cord within my soul that needs strumming, and I could not be more thankful.

And here I must end because, again, Nina Simone has left me speechless.

Check out my other articles over Nina Simone:

https://vinyl-culture.com/2017/07/17/music-vinyl-blog-review-nina-simone-baltimore/

ALBUM REVIEW: St. Vincent, MASSEDUCTION

It has been awhile since I have written any of my musical musings and it’s not for a lack of words. I have discovered TONS of great music over the past few months. My job went crazy and my life went into an awkward spiral, but now I’m back, thanks to St. Vincent.

Over the last few months I decided to rejoin Vinyl Me, Please. I was once a member and I don’t particularly remember why I stopped. Through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram reading all my browsing history and spying on my personal life, I received many advertisements for Vinyl Me, Please, and November’s record of the month, St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION, caught my eye.

St. Vincent Music Review, MASSEDUCTION
Vinyl Me, Please Special Edition

Now, who hasn’t heard of St. Vincent? The record stores back home in Oklahoma take pride in her career because she was born in Tulsa, but my research tells me she moved to Texas before she was 5. I’d like to call her an Okie, but I don’t know if she would accept it.

Anyways, MASSEDUCTION quickly took me by surprise. Although I had seen a lot about St. Vincent’s music, this is actually my first foray into her catalog. I already have more of her albums on order.

To be candid, I really love MASSEDUCTION. This album served perfectly as an intro to St. Vincent’s work. I understand her earlier work is different, but this record has served as my gateway drug.

There are many reasons why I love this album, so many that it is hard to pinpoint exact reasons. Each song is like an impressionist painting. St. Vincent lays out what she sees, yet she leaves much to the imagination. Like many impressionist paintings, this album is also full of color as the orchestration ranges from heavy synthesizers to basic piano.

This album explores many themes, especially in relationships and self-discovery, but the reigning motif for me was self-acceptance. St. Vincent asks to be someone’s flawed foundation in “Hang On Me,” while calling BS on this world’s standards with “Pills” and “Los Ageless.” She knows what it’s like to be lonely and how her decisions have impacted her plight in life with “New York,” Fear The Future,” and “Young Lover.”

St. Vincent Music Review, MASSEDUCTION
The Telagraph.

At the end of all these emotions and trials, she is working on accepting herself, because ” “she can’t help what turns her on” in “MASSEDUCTION.” Although this doesn’t result in her over confidence, because she is still completely vulnerable in tracks like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and “Smoking Section.”

For me, MASSEDUCTION is not a musical journey, yet a musical process, set to the tone of purposeful “pop” if you will (Disclaimer: I think being “pop” is one of the most freeing “genres” of music. It is never a diss in my writings). Through this album’s instrumentation one can find influences of rock, dance, jazz, and electronica. This is easily seen from the rapid tempo of “Pills” to the string arrangement of “Dancing With A Ghost.”

One last note, St. Vincent’s vocals are nearly pristine on this album. Ballads, like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” really show off her “classic” vocal talent. She may be considered an indie or alternative artist, but she can sing circles with the best of them.

MASSEDUCTION completely accomplished it’s title, as it has completely seduced me into the world of St. Vincent and, apparently, I’m not alone. I was online today trying to buy tickets for her shows in New York City this weekend and they are completely sold out. Off to StubHub I go!

Check out St. Vincent’s official website here.

Check out St. Vincent’s Twitter: @St_Vincent.

Check out St. Vincent’s Instagram: @St_Vincent.

Check out St. Vincent’s Facebook here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Paula Cole, Ballads – Uncanny & Reverent

I listen to a lot of albums. From Peter Gabriel to Beyoncé, I have found myself jumping between genres, while hitting every step along the way. I think I’m well rounded, while some would say I have ADHD.

There are two categories of albums I listen too. “Albums I like” is the largest category. This consists of the albums I hear and binge on a daily basis. These albums generally rustle my feathers and often give me goosebumps. Then there are the albums that make me stop and say, “Whoa, that is what music sounds like.” Those are few and far between.

Recently, I have found an album that has jolted me to a complete halt. That album is Paula Cole’s Ballads.

I can barely express how excited I am about this album. Once I listened to it on Spotify I immediately went to her website, ordered the vinyl version with signature, checked tour dates, and read countless articles on Cole’s career. I have never evangelized for an album, but I want to tell everybody about this masterpiece.

This is a Jazz album including many of the great standards like “God Bless The Child” and “Skylark.” But, then a wrench is thrown into the collection with such songs as “I Wish (I Knew How it Feels To Be Free)” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” The album consists of 20 songs and was released by Cole independently on her 675 label.

So now it’s a Jazz/Folk/protest album. Also, did I mention it has a hint of Country?

The album begins with “God Bless The Child,” the Jazz classic written by Billie Holiday. The only word that can describe the orchestration to this arrangement is “rootsy.” It’s not your typical arrangement of Jazz, yet it completely encompasses everything that is Jazz. This idea stays with the entirety of the album.

Next, Cole goes into the protest song made famous by Nina Simone, “I Wish (I Knew How to Be Free).” Again Cole evokes an emotion that often gets lost in songs, the core meaning. This song has specific historical significance, but she makes the song relevant today.

“I Wish” is perfectly coupled with Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” later in the album. “Lonesome” is one of my top 5. The way Cole presents a story song is like a movie. The listener sees everything in detail. She talks about the longing for justice that was desperately needed in the 1960s and still needed today. Her voice literally becomes the rag to dry your tears. The movies continue with the songs “Ode To Billy Joe” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.”

Cole gives the uptempo jazz greats a new facade as well with songs like “Never Will I Marry, ” Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “You Hit the Spot.” These songs show Cole’s skilled vocal technique and her accomplished talent as an arranger. Not to mention her pitch-perfect melancholy tones on the great standards like “You’ve Changed” and “Autumn Leaves.”

The greatest feat of this album is how it portrays Jazz music. All of Cole’s vocals are Jazz in style and soul. Jazz doesn’t belong to a certain instrument or vocal method, it belongs to the approach and deliverance of a song. Jazz encapsulates love, heartbreak, and justice in its purest forms.

Cole then adds a second element to this album. Early in this article, I mentioned how the album feels “rootsy,” but I want to go a step further. This album echoes the foundation of music as a whole. It goes down to the very roots that hold music upright today. This album not only covers some of the best songs ever written, but it is also a tribute to the great musicians that have shaped modern music.

Inherently, I know Cole collaborated, discussed, and had multiple outside influences, but in the end, she was the sole producer of this album. The framework began in her mind, while others added color, yet she filled in the final details. This album is a testament that Paula Cole is a master at the art of music.

The way Paula Cole weaves the themes of heartbreak, injustice, love, happiness, and sorrow seamlessly on one album through Jazz is incredible. This album is so relevant it’s uncanny, yet so nostalgic it’s reverent.


Visit Paula Cole’s official Website here.

Check out her Twitter here.

Check out her Facebook here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Nina Simone, Baltimore -Still Speechless

Some artists you can’t figure out. These artists are often the ones I skip over when I’m choosing someone to write about. If I can’t emotionally get my mind and heart wrapped around their music and voice, how could I put words to it?

One of these artists is Nina Simone. Her voice is as sharp as a razor blade, as extravagant as a fur coat, yet as innocent and simple as a little girl. It penetrates your being and goes straight for the soul. Listening to her is a spiritual experience.

Nina Simone Baltimore
From my personal collection

I have many of Simone’s albums and with each album, I find a new gem. Sometimes it could just be the way she stylizes a song differently, on other albums it’s her own compositions. On one of my recent vinyl hauls, I found her 1978 album, Baltimore.

This album immediately took me by surprise. Nina Simone was singing reggae? I wasn’t complaining. I liked it. Songs like the title track “Baltimore” and her cover of Hall and Oates “Rich Girl” really show a different tone to her voice. It is different than every one of her previous studio albums. It’s innovative.

Although, this change was not welcomed by Simone. We all know Simone was a complex lady, but I truly believe she had a beautiful soul. In 1977 famed jazz producer, Creed Taylor, signed Simone to his label CTI. Simone was not one to do what she didn’t want to, yet her comment’s made about this album proves she did just that. The sessions were tense and she eventually recorded the album’s vocals in an hour and a half.

Yet, a master piece was still born.

First, I was immediately hooked to the second song “Everything Must Change.” Simone’s vocals glide over the words of this song like second nature. At this point in her life, both personally and professionally, she had experienced change, while also not experiencing enough change. On this recording, Simone’s melancholy vocals continue to take on different shapes to each listener’s situation years later.

Then there is Simone’s second ballad of the album, “My Father.” The song’s lyrics make a complete circle, but Simone’s vocals fill in all the space between the words. It’s brilliance.

Nina Simone Baltimore
From last.fm

On side B I found Simone’s “melody” of traditional Christian songs intriguing. Through my experience with Simone, she doesn’t often give a higher power credit, but in “Balm of Gilead” and “If You Pray Right,” she does just that. Her voice sounds completely content and joyful in “Balm of Gilead,” which is taken straight from the Holy Bible. “If You Pray Right” takes on a complete gospel spin that really isn’t Simone, but it’s a vocal style that many African-American singers get type cast into. She is the High Priestess of Soul though, and she can preach like no other! It’s nice to hear Simone in these less heavy songs as she brings a new identity to both of them.

When I first heard the album I thought it was an interesting avenue Simone traveled down musically. Then I did the research and found that she was disgusted with the album, but the listener can’t hear that. She gives 110% to a project she distastes. Why?

Nina Simone both, self-perceived and in reality, lived on the back burner. People knew she was always going to give her all and they took advantage of that. Even this could not mask her genius interpretation of emotion.

I’m just going to have to end here because I simply can’t think of anything else to say. Again, Nina Simone has left me speechless.

ALBUM REVIEW: Coldplay, Parachutes – I’m Growing With It

I recently found out a friend is a really big fan of Coldplay, and that may be an understatement. He has seen them approximately 27 times since the beginning of their career.

Again, I am late to the game. I have never given Coldplay a fair listen. It’s not that I don’t like them. In 2011 I did purchase their album Mylo Xyloto and I loved it. I planned on getting into their music more, but then some other artist happened. Which speaks to the mantra of my life; so many artists, so little time!

Since my friend had such a conviction about the greatness of Coldplay, I decided it was time to dive into their catalog. I’m determined not to become distracted again (Well, until the next record sale). So I got on Discogs and purchased their first album from 2000, Parachutes.

On my initial listen I thought Coldplay was boring. It wasn’t anything like the album Mylo Xyloto. The album seemed melancholy and I really didn’t get excited about any of the songs. A few stuck out to me, but nothing I was going to put on repeat. Convinced this must not be one of their best albums, I texted my friend and expressed my feeling of indifference. I asked him if this was a boring album. Maybe there is better things to come? A progression in artistry if you will.

His reply: “It’s one of their best.” Clearly, I was missing something.

I gave it a second listen and read all the lyrics along with the songs. Then I gave it a third listen. Sometimes I find myself hating an album on it’s initial listen, but I fall in love with it on the third and fourth. Yet with Parachutes, I still find myself in the middle.

This album is not my favorite (at the moment), but it has given me a deeper respect for Chris Martin and Coldplay as a whole. I think Martin is a brilliant vocalist and the band writes intuitive lyrics. I do find this album fascinating, because often times the musical tones of the music do not match the lyrics.

As I listen to this album more, I am finding it more appealing and I am beginning to relate to their music. Oddly, I feel it somehow get’s me. The music is alive. Each song is up for interpretation, which gives this album an “I’m here for you” tone.

I may have gone off the deep end here.

My takeaways from this album are “Spies,” Yellow,” “Trouble,” and “Everything’s Not Lost” with “High Speed” coming in very close. These tunes are growing on me more and more, and I’m finding myself liking new songs with every listen.

So really I cannot write much about this album for I cannot figure it out, but I like it. I’m not ready to move on to Coldplay album two because this one has so many facets to it. This speaks to the brilliance of the album. How does an album that is nearly 17 years old speak relevance to listeners today? **Mind Blown**

So I would say that my Coldplay journey is starting out rather interesting. I’m excited about listening to their next albums like I haven’t been for a “new” artist in a long time. Martin’s voice has many layers and together the band makes penetrating melodies. Not to mention the lyrics are like clay and mold to different situations.

Parachutes is going to be on repeat for the next week. Although I feel this album is not going to grow on me, instead I’m going to grow with it.

PLAYLIST: Let’s Keep Walking

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but it isn’t for a lack of spinning. My life season is beginning to speed up and I have been enjoying music with no strings attached.

I’m also attempting to listen to EVERY vinyl in my collection and it’s taking a while. I’m discovering new jewels while relishing in favorites. I’m listening to my collection by artist.  By not writing about what I am listening too, I am sparing you 50 posts over Judy Garland.

Although, a theme has risen through the music I have been listening to at home and work. I have been gravitating towards songs and artists that I feel empowered through. I’m listening to songs that tell me “I’m worthy.”

I am not necessarily going through a depressed stage of my life, but it isn’t my happiness by no means. I need a pick me up. Here are some of the artists that have inspired me to keep walking lately.

As with all my lists, they are in no particular order.

1. John Legend

I have been a fan of Legend on and off for many years now. Recently I have been intently listening to his latest release, Darkness and Light and his first release, 2013’s Get Lifted. What I love about Get Lifted is its straight honesty and how Legend styles hip hop. Darkness and Light has become special to me as I have become more socially aware. Although I am a white male, when legend sings “There is power in the color of my face” in “I Know Better,” it not only brings awareness to problems our society is still facing, but it also reminds me that we are all unique and contribute to God’s vast world.

2. Beyoncé

Sorry B, couldn’t wait for an official release of Lemonade on vinyl.

Beyoncé strives to provide empowerment for women and African-Americans on her albums, especially with her last two releases Beyoncé and Lemonade, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a universal message. As a by-product of her mission, I have also seen that I can be comfortable in my own skin. I just feel pumped to be me when I hear the likes of “***Flawless” and “Formation.” Again these are songs that speak to me as I have begun to dissect my surrounds and become aware of our society. I am not discrediting this, I just think it’s beautiful that she can speak to anybody in any circumstance through her music’s message.

3. Reba McEntire

Now it is not everyday you see Beyonce and Reba in the same list, but my versatile ear is unpredictable from hour to hour. Reba’s latest album, Sing it Now: Songs of Faith and Hope has spoken to me in a way an album hasn’t in many years. Reba is very special to me (read about that here) and this album has helped me as my faith has been growing lately. There is not a more poignant message then her latest single “Back to God.” This world would be a better place if we just gave it back to the Creator and lived the true message of what it means to be like Christ (I will have a full post on this album soon). For unbelievers, I think the universal concept here is if we only would love each other and lay ourselves down for the goodness of others and the world, we could create a better place one action at a time. Below is my favorite lyrics and Reba’s conviction gives me chills.

“You gotta cry, rain tears of pain

Pound the floor and scream His name

‘Cause we’re still worth saving”

So although taking steps into the hurdles of our days may be burdensome and heavy, we have to realize we all have something to contribute to this world, we are all-powerful, and we need to love each other more. If we could realize these simple truths we would truly give this world back to God, and serve a higher purpose than ourselves. We would serve others.

Basically there is power in all of our faces, we must sing and act on faith and hope, and slay while we do it. This world is worth saving.