Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The night following this late morning taping played out in Des Moines, Iowa, about two and a half hours west of here, where Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers were opening for the Avett Brothers at a lovely room called the Hoyt Sherman Place. It's a theater with plush seats that forces a sit-down crowd, more prone to take in an evening of entertainment with a wine glass outstretched from a manicured and tanned hand, at the end of a freshly pressed dress shirt sleeve, rather than a crowd that's ready to stomp and stammer like Miss Crain would like it to. She'd love it to, really, to meet her halfway, getting all fussy and sweaty and letting out her sorrows with her winged songs of fiery objection. Crain is short in stature, but to cross her would be to write your own death certificate if her energy and soulful performances are indications of anything. She punishes the hard soles of her cowboy boots as if the pounding on the floor could change things, could reverse the damage done to her, by whomever did it. She comes to us with a sun-shiny-ness, but it wears off like a coat of watercolor paint in a thunderstorm when she starts playing. It's at that point, when the microphones are live and hissing and the lights dim a touch for the evening, that Crain cradles her hurt and those spiny wrongs that are the monsters in her closets, the ones that constantly reach out to her for her attention. It's when she can send them back to where they belong and that's in her past, but that never erases them forever, just wipes them out of view for the time being, until the night falls again and the mind gets restless. Crain invites us into what feels like her cozy little house, a gorgeous old wood-framed joint with a personality, beautiful shutters nestled around the windows and a green, green lawn that looks back upon a wrap-around porch with a creaky swing. We are hearing the songs that she's making to her lost loves, to her new babies and to their forecasted, sad expirations. She just throws another log on the fire, gets another drink and works through all of her painful and touching emotions - all of which are coming down the line in a fine southern drawl and with the dreaminess of starlight and moon beams. "Lions," a new song that makes it's debut in this session, features many of her greatest assets - that pulsing drive that gives her the ability to drum up all of her concerns and turn them into living beasts that need to be scared away or else they'll just live on and prey, the angelic touch of her soft but powerful voice, and a quivering tone of uncertainty and fear in a voice that dares to be vulnerable and brave all at once. The final line that rings out at the end of the song is, "Gonna getcha through this," and it could be what keeps her blood pumping, this idea that there is some help out there to assist in getting through another day, despite being sick and tired of all the rejection and poor results. Crain seems to believe in the overriding goodness of it all and not the monsters, not the sad times or the people who perpetrate the sad times. She seems to want these to burn brighter, to be there for her when she needs them the most, but the truth is that they choose when they want to be around and she's left with whatever strength she has in herself, chanting over and over again, as she does on "Beloved, We Have Expired," "To be held again/To be held again/To be held again/Oh/Oh…." It has to be enough, that hope.
Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers Official Site