Samantha Crain parks at the Garage

by Carole Perkins

Stepping across thestreet from the Garage in Winston-Salem last Friday night to discussher new EP, The Confiscation, Samantha Crain, is stopped at the door bythe bartender. “I’m sorry,” he says. “We don’t allow children in here.” Blinksof surprise follow reassurances that Crain, a petite, full-lippedbeauty with a brunette braid coiled around one shoulder, is indeed 21years old. She is the youngest and newest member of RamseurRecords, a Concord, NC-based record label managing stanchion bands suchas the Avett Brothers and the everybodyfields. She and her band, theMidnight Shivers, are also recipients of the Oklahoma Gazette’s 2008Woody Award for best folk band. Further lifting the wings of thisphoenix of a band is the honor of having a day officially dedicated toSamantha by the mayor of her hometown, Shawnee, Ok. “It was really cool to receive the award in the spirit of Woody Guthrie because he is the epitome of Oklahoma,” says Crain. She has been writing stories since she was a child in composition notebooks her parents supplied. “Assoon as I could write stories about people, I did. I was quite thelittle liar and exaggerator and still am,” she says with a smile. TheConfiscation is a compilation of five short stories Crain wrote andturned into songs. Each song has a different narrator expounding themesof betrayal, redemption and good versus evil. In the processof taking the EP to the next level, she e-mailed Dolphus Ramseur,president of Ramseur Records about the possibility of opening for theAvett Brothers. As the winds of fate and serendipity blow, Crain says she and Dolphus Ramseur, head of Ramseur Records, “found each other.” “Wejust started talking and everything fell into place,” she says. “He’smore interested in the long career than the fast buck.” JacobEdwards, on drums, coined the name the Midnight Shivers, “because theyneeded something that evoked nighttime whisky drinking and front-porchsmoking.” He’s joined by Andy Tanz on bass and back-up vocals and, forthe tour, Nate Hendrix on electric guitar. The Midnight Shivers anchorthe traditional folk-rock rhythms and steer Crain’s Dylanesque acousticguitar and harmonica duets. Samantha’s youthful appearance is indirect contrast to her velvety, sonorous voice thick with flavors ofdark chocolate, licorice and nutmeg, melded with a unique blend ofround vowels. “As a child I had a lisp or a speech impediment,”she explains. “I was from a family that was either very eloquent of hada very Southern drawl. “When I sing I can make up words thatsound like how I want them to be. Words are things that I experimentwith. I can rhyme and mold anything together and I never sing the samesong the same way. The tone and timbre is me but it’s a whole new gameeach time. Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers’ 12-songset struck all the right notes, fusing a palpable collaboration ofbands such as the Grateful Dead, Radiohead, Bob Dylan and the Band, allmusical influences. Four songs from The Confiscation werefeatured beginning with “Beloved, We Have Been Expired,” a wearyresignation of love’s flame burning low, of “being the forgotten changein the pocket of your old winter coat.” Crain explains the verse ofthis song: “The floors I sleep on at night, they speak to me. Theirstrange voices tell me all thing true.They say if something’s dead,it’s dead. There’s no reviving it, just bury it and move on.” “Twoyears go when we started touring we slept on floors anywhere we could,”she says. “I would lie on the hard floor and think about everything. Ihad really good therapy sessions, imagining hands coming out of thefloor for a massage. Floors were the source I could go to to figurethings out.” “Traipsing Through the Aisles,” is a pulsing,surprisingly happy-go-lucky, shrug-of-the-shoulders song despite thetheme of remorse as thick as a wet wool blanket. “I’m lost inside my home and my clothes, in the rows of my mind and I know it’s not a sign I just messed up this time. “I did something wrong.” Thetenth song plays possum with the crowd, the band pretending to fumblefor a song as the singer’s back is turned, when in fact she swivelsaround with harmonica to lips, blasting the audience with all thevehemence of a Southern Baptist preacher pummeling his fist on thepulpit and spitting warnings of fire and brimstone. “The River,” conjures grim images of a man around town that discovers little girls playing beside a river. “Whenhe finds them the rest makes me shiver, he holds them down when theirfeet won’t reach the ground and he waits for the struggle to end.” Crainsays this song was inspired by a Flannery O’Connor story of the samename that she and two friends read and decided to write their ownversion. Crain decided for her story that the man is purged of guiltand repents by agreeing to be baptized in the river where, “thepreacher holds him down when his feet won’t reach the ground and hewaits for judgment to come, yes he waits for the Lord’s will to bedone.” “Writing is a meditation for me,” she says. “I sit downand the chord progressions just sort of happen. The melodies are in myhead. I keep journal entries in images. The best songs are the ones youcan feel, see and smell.” When asked why only five of the twelvelyrical miracles performed Friday night were released as an EP insteadof a complete CD, she responds with a lightening bolt of bare truth. “I only had five-hundred dollars,” she says. “That’s how much it costs to record five songs.”