It's been a whirlwind year for Samantha Crain: The 22-year-old Oklahoman and her band have toured hard, played Philadelphia's World Café (which will at some point find its way onto the NPR show that originates there), and released Songs In the Night, their first full-length album. Crain brings those country-rock songs, along with her band, The Midnight Shivers, to the South Park Amphitheatre Fri., Aug. 14.
Despite her youth, Crain sings and writes with a confidence that betrays maturity; her songs deal mostly in love and death, and range from devotional to nearly gothic. While some songs are upbeat and rock-oriented, Crain's lyrics are moody and rife with the loaded symbolism of Americana (trees, mountains, railroads). They're delivered in a quivering, ethereal voice, floating yet somehow worn down.
The band behind her preserves Crain's tone without overblowing it; pulled-back drumming and reserved guitar riffs (with plenty of reverb and vibrato, recalling a pedal steel at times) punctuate her songs. It does justice to a singer and songwriter like Crain to have a band that, while capable, is willing to lay down a bit to let the songwriting show through.
And it's Crain's exploration of emotional states that shines through. For example, in "The Dam Song," she describes a relationship that's grown stale, and a wish for something, even something bad, to happen to it: "Least then there'd be some moving / Least then there'd be some destruction / Least then there'd be a famine, a coffin, a tear."
Perhaps it's depressing news for such a young songwriter from small-town Oklahoma to be delivering, but Crain does it in a way that's almost sadly convincing. It's clear this is an artist who understands emotional landscapes better than some folks twice her age.
Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers 7:30 p.m. Fri., Aug. 14. South Park Amphitheatre, Buffalo Drive, South Park. Free. 412-835-4810 or www.alleghenycounty.us/parks