Singer-songwriter Samantha Crain has always sounded like an old soul, her dusty alto worn down by restless thoughts and free-floating anxiety. On the autobiographical Kid Face, the Oklahoma native sounds even more wizened as she explores loneliness, wanderlust and emotional disruption. Produced by John Vanderslice, Kid Face is a sparse record, laced with stark folk and Americana signifiers: acoustic guitar, wobbly piano, curled pedal steel and keening violin. Shambling banjo, stabs of synthesizer or electric guitar add occasional jolts of urgency to the mix.
But significantly, Crain comes into her own as a lyricist on Kid Face. Besides being a meticulous wordsmith (“I’m going to shows, counting my toes and crying over you” is how she describes one particularly trying breakup), she offers thorough, unflinching self-analysis. Crain uses Kid Face‘s songs to examine her place in the world — and figure out how her actions affect others, for better and for worse. “Churchill” addresses the realization that “my whole life I thought I was an opportunist/ But I’m not”; “Sand Paintings” struggles with overcoming self-sabotaging tendencies; and “Ax” is a call to be kind in the face of negativity. Perhaps most impressive is “Never Going Back,” which describes (hopefully) breaking free from a disastrous affair: “The ending of 10,000 dreams/ My soul has finally been set free from his cool eyes.” The song is devastatingly effective because of its economy, the same trait that also makes Kid Face a wonderful record.