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.


   

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.

ALBUM REVIEW: Reba McEntire, Self-Titled

I have been a Reba McEntire fan for nearly my entire life. You can read more about that musical journey here. When I began to collect records I knew I had to have every album she had released on vinyl, but there was one little hiccup.

Reba McEntire's, First AlbumFor the life of me, I could not find her 1977 Mercury self-titled debut. I searched everywhere from garage sales, record stores, and eBay. There is not a significant hit on this album nor did it even chart on Billboards Country Albums. I guess that means there are not many floating around.

Well, I finally found one in Oklahoma, the perfect place for one to be! We love our McEntires in the red dirt and have supported Reba since the beginning. I have now listened to it many times over and I don’t find it insignificant, but a foretelling of what was to come. This album is her humble beginnings.

Reba’s debut album takes a more traditional route compared to her later recordings. It might sound odd to some fans, but it firmly shows where her roots are planted. The album begins with the sweet, mid-tempo “Glad I waited Just For You.” I would say this is “bubblegum country” at it’s finest. One is then quickly taken into the first ballad of the album, “One to One.” This track is a highlight.

“One to One” echoes 70’s soft rock and shows Reba’s versatile vocals. Ballads are among some of my favorite Reba songs and nobody portrays pure love and pure heartbreak like she does. Although this song is not a “break-up” song, this album does give Reba much room to sing some heart-wrenching tunes.

Reba McEntireReba begins to show her emotional chops with songs like “I Was glad To Give My Everything to You,” “Take Your Love Away,” and a cover of Hot’s 1977 hit, “Angel in Your Arms.” One can clearly see where “For My Broken Heart,” “She Thinks His Name Was John,” and “Till You Love Me” come into play later in her career.

Sadly, this album only charted two songs, “I Don’t Want To Be A One Night Stand,” which came in at 88 on Billboards Country Singles chart, and “(There’s Nothing Like The Love) Between A Woman and A Man,” coming in at 86. Each of these songs is memorable, but not chart toppers for late 70’s country.

Lastly, two of the biggest gems are “Why Can’t He Be You” and “Invitation To The Blues.” The first was written by Hank Cochran and previously recorded by Patsy Cline. The later was written by Reba’s Oklahoma contemporary, Roger Miller. Reba’s version of “Why Can’t He Be You” is almost the exact same arrangement as Cline’s and although it still falls short of Cline’s greatness, it is remarkable. Reba’s version proves she had the performing chops in 1977 and it has shown a light to her later career. She was going to be a show stopper.

This album shows an Okie girl making it in the big music world. It’s merely her humble beginnings, just like her ones in the fields of Oklahoma. Although not considered a commercial hit, this album sets a precedent and lays a foundation for Reba’s career.

ALBUM REVIEW: Peter Criss, Kiss Solo

Artist: Peter Criss  Album: Peter Criss (KISS Solo)

Kiss Peter CrissI’ve always felt that Peter Criss was the step-child of Kiss. He never seemed to get the same credit or “buzz” in the media when it came to the other members. Although, he does have one of their most legendary hits, “Beth,” as the lead vocalist.

Since I visited Gene Simmon’s 1978 Kiss solo album last week, I thought it would be fitting to visit them all eventually. To be completely honest, I have listened to every Kiss solo album, but Peter Criss.’ I am guilty of not giving him a fair treatment as well.

This album opens with “I’m Gonna Love You,” a funky rock tune that easily fits in its 1970’s context. At the opening of this album Criss’ voice has a southern rock twang with some gravel.

Next comes “You Matter To Me.” This song immediately has some 70’s flair sounding almost disco-esque with its synthesizers. This was one of two singles released from this album. It’s easily one of the best tracks of the record. The other single was “Don’t You Let Me Down.” This song has the tendencies of a doo-wop band from the 1960’s, within a Hawaiian flair. An interesting track to say the least.

Side B opens with the Peter Criss the public was used to hearing solo. He trades in the piano ballad for a guitar on “Easy Thing.” The passion of this song is really felt in his vocals. This is the first time I truly feel Criss is comfortable on the album.

The record then goes into “Rock Me, Baby.” I found this song quite intriguing for it goes back to rock and roll’s roots with some “honky-tonk” piano stylings, while throwing in some horns. This wasn’t your average Kiss song. Criss then brings the ballad back with “Kiss The Girl Goodbye,” with, dare I say it, some Carpenter’s type stylings (in vocals only).

Kiss Peter CrissCriss finishes the album with what would be your typical Kiss song, “Hooked On Rock ‘N’ Roll,” along with another ballad “I Can’t Stop The Rain.” Criss brings a vocal that is reminiscent of  Michael Bolton in his last ballad.

All in all, I feel like Criss really does get the short end of the stick when it comes to many of Kiss’ compositions. Although this isn’t my favorite of the solo albums, I feel it largely portrays Criss as being misunderstood. His album stands out as the least 1970’s “rock and roll,” but it shines a light on the inter-workings of Kiss.

This light shows that Criss’ is not behind the other members of Kiss in talent or intrigue, but that his artistry is made up of more contrasting elements. Now I am not up on my “Kisstory,” but I do know that Criss often had a rocky relationship with the band. This is obvious looking at his solo work.

His 1978 solo album really shows the beginning of what would soon lead to clashes within the band when it pertained to Criss. His makeup was just made up differently versus the rest of the members and this album portrays this difference. No pun intended.

Key Tracks: “You Matter To Me,” “I’m Gonna Love You,” ” Easy Thing”

Deep Cuts: “Kiss The Girl Goodbye,” “I Can’t Stop The Rain”

ALBUM REVIEW: Gene Simmons, KISS Solo

Artist: Gene Simmons  AlbumGene Simmons (KISS Solo)

I really do love Kiss. Their image is revolutionary and their music is timeless rock and roll. When they came out into the public they shook America’s pop culture to its core with their different costumes and on stage antics, and the inevitable meaning of KISS. *Rolls eyes*

The face that is most quickly identified amongst the members of Kiss is that of Gene Simmons. He is the demon and yes he does breathe fire. Pastors beware!!

Simmons is an excellent business man and has really helped construct Kiss into the product they are today. From t-shirts, coffee mugs, shower curtains and dolls, one can always find a Kiss product. I might have owned that shower curtain…

Kiss Gene SimmonsNow back to the music. In 1978 all four members of Kiss released their own solo albums. There are varying accounts of why they did this with the most popular being that the band was starting to not get along so well. Basically, they needed a break from each other.

Simmon’s opens his album with a haunting laugh reminiscent of Vincent Price in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The album then goes into “Radioactive.” This song could easily be identified as a Kiss song with its obsessive guitar rifts and rhyming chorus. The same goes for the second track of the album “Burning Up With Fever.” Although, not easily heard by the untrained musical historian, this track does feature Donna Summer.

We then get treated to some soft rock vibes that continue throughout the record. This is easily heard in the tracks “See You Tonight,” “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide,” and “Mr. Make Believe.”

Side two opens with the track “Living in Sin.” This track is an odd track that could easily be updated and be the theme song of the dating app Tinder. With lyrics such as “I know you write me sexy letters and you send your pictures for my wall” and “I’m living in sin
at the Holiday Inn,” one can feel a tad uncomfortable. This song is quickly redeemed though once one realizes the lady on the phone is Cher. I also believe she added some backing tracks. A cameo from Cher can never hurt, especially during her 1970’s heyday.

Side two goes on to “Man of 1000 Faces,” which has very Beatles-esque styling, incorporating  ear friendly melodies and a 1960’s pop feel. This song is also mixed with strings and horns, not something you expect from Simmons. He quickly returns to his rock and roll flare though with “See You In Your Dreams.”

Kiss Gene SimmonsWhat shocked me the most about this album was the closing song. I thought the album was over until I heard a Disney like medley with Simmons continuing into “When You Wish Upon a Star.” I was definitely not expecting the Demon to cover Jiminey Cricket, but after reading about this album I found the profound meaning behind the reason Simmons chose to record this song.

“When I first heard that song I could barely speak English but I knew the words were true. Anybody can have what they want, the world and life can give its rewards to anyone.”

This song gave a young Simmons, an immigrant from Israel, inspiration for his new life in America. I absolutely love that and the fact that he covered this song going against every fiber of the image KISS had built.

What I really discovered about Simmons while listening to this album was he is kind of a softie. Not in a bad way though. I just alway think of him as breathing fire or spitting blood for the sake of entertainment, but underneath all the showmanship is a true artist. He wrote nearly each song on this album and there are some great lyrics to be had. This album will make you see a completely new side to Simmons. I find this album to truly be the first time he was “unmasked” and vulnerable with his audience, showing some of his core emotions.

I guess one could say he is a sentimental demon.

Key Tracks: “Radioactive,” “Living in Sin,” “See You In Your Dreams”

Deep Cuts: “True Confessions,” “Mr. Make Believe,” “When You Wish Upon a Star”

ALBUM REVIEW: Steve Lawrence, Winners!

Artist: Steve Lawrence     Album: Winners!

I adore Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. Every album they made as a duo or as solo artists I can spin continuously. There is a carefree, genuine love that comes with their albums made together and their solo vocal chops are equally golden.

Steve LawrenceOne of my favorite albums out of Steve Lawrence’s catalog is his 1962 album Winners! This record contains the number one hit single “Go Away Little Girl,” co-written by a then unknown Carole King.  Bobby Vee originally recorded this song earlier in 1962.

Winners! is an album of cover songs. The idea behind the album was to find previous song “winners” and let Lawrence give them his golden take. Listening to this album one would never guess that Lawrence was covering other’s songs because he makes each song his own.

The album starts with “Cotton Fields,” which was originally recorded by Huddie Ledbetter in 1940. This is a quick audience grabber as Lawrence’s vocals swoon over this folk classic. Later he goes into Connie Francis’ smash hit, “Who’s Sorry Now?” This is one of the high points of the album. He takes this song and turns it completely on its head. His vocals are confident and crisp, and all but resist the stinging tone of an “I told you so.” Lawrence’s vocals have class and debonair wrapped into one.

The second side of this album contains “Go Away Little Girl,” but the treasures on this side are Lawrence’s covers of Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and Jack Jones. I would think it would be a bold move for Lawrence to cover his contemporaries songs, but the orignal artist names don’t even cross your mind when listening to his versions.

Lawrence’s smooth vocals gently caress “All The Way,” while he portrays determination to never give up on the one he loves. His rendition of “Moon River” starts out with the conventional beginning, but he ends it with a big band. Lastly, he covers one of my personal favorites, “Lollipops and Roses.” He again is backed by a big band and he gives this song a less vulnerable feel then the original, portraying faith and confidence in his romantic tactics.

Steve LawrenceBesides the fact that I like this album, it is special to me for other reasons. I sent my album cover with a writing I did over an album Steve and Eydie made to an address I found for Lawrence. It was a shot in the dark, but I wanted to try to get his autograph. It wasn’t much more than a week later he sent it back to me with the inscription

“To Gabe, Thanks for all the wonderful things you said about me and Eydie. All the best to you. Fondly, Steve Lawrence.”

This album holds a special spot on my shelf, for both its recordings and the special inscription Lawrence sent to me. As a vocalist myself I consider him one of my models. As a writer I could not be more thrilled that he actually read my post over him and his late wife Eydie Gormé.

Lawrence is just a class act and his vocal cords are plated in gold.

Key Tracks: “Go Away Little Girl,” “Kansas City,” “It’s Not For Me To Say”

Deep Cuts: “All The Way,” “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Teach Me Tonight”

ALBUM REVIEW: Bobby Darin, Darin At The Copa

Sometimes you find an album that makes you ponder 3 ideas:

  1. I wish this album would never end.
  2. If only time machines were real….
  3. Why the hell wasn’t I born decades ago?

These were my exact thoughts this week as I listened to Bobby Darin’s Darin at The Copa. Unfortunately, I am just now getting into the world of Darin, but he has quickly become one of my new favorites and this album solidified his distinct spot on my shelves.

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http://www.991.com

I have been doing research on Darin and I think it is only fitting for my first post about him to be about this album for both his history and my sake. First, there is the matter that Darin performed this album at the Copacabana (Yes, the one with Lola). After doing some research on Darin, I found that this was his dream venue. He always wanted to play the Copa just like Frank Sinatra, except he wanted to sell more seats. Second, since moving to the New York City area, I am finding the historical music scene that surrounds this town fascinating and I can’t help but tear up when I wonder across these pieces of history.

This album is a collection of songs from Darin’s first appearance at the Copa. By the time his first stint at the Copa concluded, he had shattered their attendance records and performed to rave reviews in nearly every New York publication. He must have been the envy of every performer who regularly frequented the dinner club scene in New York and I think he is still the envy of many young performers today.

Darin At The Copa opens with a medley of an African-American spiritual, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and a song written in the same tone and style, “Lonesome Road.” “Chariot” is a traditional spiritual that has been around since the early 1900’s, whereas “Lonesome Road was written by Nathaniel Shilkret and Gene Austin in 1927 in the style of an African-American spiritual to wide commercial success. Darin pulled these off effortlessly and arranged the medley himself. It was a daring move for the young performer. This album was recorded in 1960 and he was promoting African-American song stylings. Proving, as I have discovered he often does, that he was always a few moments before his time. Change was already long overdue.

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http://www.bobbydarin.net

Next, Darin goes into the standard “Some of These Days,” followed by his smash hit “Mack The Knife.” He then dives into the music of Cole Porter with “Love for Sale” and “You’d Be Nice to Come Home To.” “Love For Sale” is one of the biggest highlights of the entire album. He sings this song with a finesse of deception and loneliness. He took advantage of his vocals here and went rogue compared to many singers of the day. He then closes side A with another one of his hits, “Dream Lover.”

Side B opens with another song arranged by Darin, “Bill Bailey.” Oddly, this song also has roots in “Dixieland” and African-American tradition. This underlying tone shows that Darin was trying to be a change agent of the time not only with his vocals, but with his social conscience.  He then goes into the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, “I Have Dreamed” showing he had the vocal ability as a classic singer and superb song interpreter.

Darin then goes deeper into his jazz stylings with “Alright, O.K., You Win.” This optimistic tune admits the spell a woman has over a man and is then coupled with a medley of “By Myself” and “When Your Lover is Gone.” “By Myself” is one of my favorite compositions and Darin sings this song with the heartbreak tone this song deserves. Next, he mixes the jazz scene up by throwing in his interpretation of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” on which he also played the piano. Lastly, he closes out the album with a song he claims helped start this direction of his career, “That’s All.”

Then, against my wishes, the album concludes.

This record had me sitting at the center table of the Copa watching Darin’s electric performance in

American singer and film actor Bobby Darin (1936 - 1973) rehearsing in London. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
American singer and film actor Bobby Darin (1936 – 1973) rehearsing in London. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

person. I literally looked at my needle a few times to see if it could contain the music. Darin’s pure energy resonates with the listener 56 years later, as if the listener was there. Listening to this album is being in the presence of Darin. His vocals, energy, character, and personality shone as bright as it did in 1960.

I’m afraid if I was at the performance, I might have needed shades.

This album proves that a singer never truly passes and that their impact can touch countless generations through black gold (and if you like that digital stuff). The mastering of this album is done to perfection. I am amazed how Darin was able to jump from Cole Porter to Ray Charles, while mixing in his own compositions and arrangements. This vinyl caught a performer in their natural habitat and captured a brilliant moment in both Darin’s catalog and music history.

With this album, I was able to catch a glimpse of Darin’s high-octane performance style that every performer should strive for. This album also shows the true art of performance and it sadly proves it’s demise in our overly commercial, mechanical, music industry.

Which makes me ask the profound question…..why the hell was I born in 1990?