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Samantha Crain parks at the Garage

by Carole Perkins

Stepping across the street from the Garage in Winston-Salem last Friday night to discuss her new EP, The Confiscation, Samantha Crain, is stopped at the door by the bartender.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “We don’t allow children in here.”

Blinks of surprise follow reassurances that Crain, a petite, full-lipped beauty with a brunette braid coiled around one shoulder, is indeed 21 years old.

She is the youngest and newest member of Ramseur Records, a Concord, NC-based record label managing stanchion bands such as the Avett Brothers and the everybodyfields. She and her band, the Midnight Shivers, are also recipients of the Oklahoma Gazette’s 2008 Woody Award for best folk band. Further lifting the wings of this phoenix of a band is the honor of having a day officially dedicated to Samantha 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.

“As soon as I could write stories about people, I did. I was quite the little liar and exaggerator and still am,” she says with a smile.

The Confiscation is a compilation of five short stories Crain wrote and turned into songs. Each song has a different narrator expounding themes of betrayal, redemption and good versus evil.

In the process of taking the EP to the next level, she e-mailed Dolphus Ramseur, president of Ramseur Records about the possibility of opening for the Avett Brothers.

As the winds of fate and serendipity blow, Crain says she and Dolphus Ramseur, head of Ramseur Records, “found each other.”

“We just started talking and everything fell into place,” she says. “He’s more interested in the long career than the fast buck.”

Jacob Edwards, on drums, coined the name the Midnight Shivers, “because they needed something that evoked nighttime whisky drinking and front-porch smoking.” He’s joined by Andy Tanz on bass and back-up vocals and, for the tour, Nate Hendrix on electric guitar. The Midnight Shivers anchor the traditional folk-rock rhythms and steer Crain’s Dylanesque acoustic guitar and harmonica duets.

Samantha’s youthful appearance is in direct contrast to her velvety, sonorous voice thick with flavors of dark chocolate, licorice and nutmeg, melded with a unique blend of round 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 had a very Southern drawl.

“When I sing I can make up words that sound like how I want them to be. Words are things that I experiment with. I can rhyme and mold anything together and I never sing the same song the same way. The tone and timbre is me but it’s a whole new game each time.

Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers’ 12-song set struck all the right notes, fusing a palpable collaboration of bands such as the Grateful Dead, Radiohead, Bob Dylan and the Band, all musical influences.

Four songs from The Confiscation were featured beginning with “Beloved, We Have Been Expired,” a weary resignation of love’s flame burning low, of “being the forgotten change in the pocket of your old winter coat.” Crain explains the verse of this song: “The floors I sleep on at night, they speak to me. Their strange 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.”

“Two years 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. I had really good therapy sessions, imagining hands coming out of the floor for a massage. Floors were the source I could go to to figure things out.”

“Traipsing Through the Aisles,” is a pulsing, surprisingly happy-go-lucky, shrug-of-the-shoulders song despite the theme 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.”

The tenth song plays possum with the crowd, the band pretending to fumble for a song as the singer’s back is turned, when in fact she swivels around with harmonica to lips, blasting the audience with all the vehemence of a Southern Baptist preacher pummeling his fist on the pulpit 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.

“When he finds them the rest makes me shiver, he holds them down when their feet won’t reach the ground and he waits for the struggle to end.”

Crain says this song was inspired by a Flannery O’Connor story of the same name that she and two friends read and decided to write their own version. Crain decided for her story that the man is purged of guilt and repents by agreeing to be baptized in the river where, “the preacher holds him down when his feet won’t reach the ground and he waits for judgment to come, yes he waits for the Lord’s will to be done.”

“Writing is a meditation for me,” she says. “I sit down and the chord progressions just sort of happen. The melodies are in my head. I keep journal entries in images. The best songs are the ones you can feel, see and smell.”

When asked why only five of the twelve lyrical miracles performed Friday night were released as an EP instead of 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.”

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