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Music Review | Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers
In Brooklyn, a Voice of Shadows and Fog
By JON CARAMANICA
Published: March 30, 2009

None of the jokes were landing for Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers on Sunday night at Southpaw, in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. Between songs, Ms. Crain or one of her bandmates would make a false start or two and giggle, only to be met by an indifferent audience.

The night before, Ms. Crain said, “we played in a really small college town, so they laughed at everything we said.” Then, as if succumbing to the inevitable, she proclaimed, “This song’s about a preacher who drowns a man that he’s baptizing.” Again, not a single laugh.

That song, “The River,” opened “The Confiscation: A Musical Novella by Samantha Crain,” an EP released on Ramseur last year, and revealed Ms. Crain as a promising young storyteller with fealty to ragged, country-driven indie-pop and an alluring dark streak.

In April the band will release its impressive full-length debut album, “Songs in the Night,” which vividly eclipses the EP. There’s a hushed, humid beauty to the album that may be difficult to recapture live, except in the most desolate and dank spaces.

At Southpaw the group’s half-hour set didn’t always get the best of the chatty crowd at the closing-night party for the 2009 Native American Film & Video Festival. (Ms. Crain is of Choctaw origin.) Still, the group flaunted effortless melodies. “Rising Sun,” which opens “Songs in the Night,” is as elegant a pop song as any this year, and deserves a fate better, if not more profitable, than a placement on an ABC prime-time drama, which is where it may well end up.

“I will give in to the dark clouds,” Ms. Crain whispered, “and I will sing with the fog in my throat.”

When focused, Ms. Crain — with turquoise tights screaming out from between a beige print dress and red cowboy boots — was captivating. Her pleading, slightly distant intonation recalled early-1990s Britpop, an accent atop a voice that traverses the space between Gillian Welch and Regina Spektor. And when Ms. Crain pushes herself, that voice arcs and dips and punches like Siouxsie Sioux’s.

She could have easily overwhelmed a less capable backing band, but the Midnight Shivers — the bass player and harmony vocalist Andrew Tanz, the guitarist Stephen Sebastian and the drummer and occasional harmonica player Jacob Edwards — ably played with texture.

On “Rising Sun,” Mr. Sebastian’s guitar rubbed up against Ms. Crain’s clear vocals like sandpaper, and the interplay of Mr. Tanz’s harmonies and Mr. Edwards’s stabbing snares gave “Get the Fever Out” the impression of speeding up, then slowing down, over and over, as Ms. Crain wisely kept it stoic: “Can we see how we need to bury you, bury you?”

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  • Posted on March 30