This eerie five-song EP is one of the most disarming releases you're likely to hear this year. Recorded by a rural Oklahoma Choctaw folk singer in a voice that sounds like an old-timey twist on Björk's erratic warble, Crain's literate songs are Southern Gothic dark, themed on disaster, despair, and the margin between betrayal and redemption. Originally released in 2007, this reissue is fashioned as a novella, with cover art mimicking a lavishly bound volume. Crain's foreboding lyrics drag across the meters, stretching and compressing words, spookily repeating self-accusing phrases in sing-song (I did something wrong, I did something wrong ...), and adding chilling high notes as punctuation.
The opening track follows a preacher whose pursuit of a child molester ends in a riverside baptismal drowning. Crain evokes the misdeeds in couplets, first Little girls playing in the river/When he finds them the rest makes me shiver, and then The preacher holds him down when his feet won't reach the ground/And he waits for judgment to come. She's equally adept at painting a relationship that's dissipated but not ended, likening herself to forgotten pocket change in an old winter coat, and realizing that she and her soon-to-be-former hate that we share the same air. She seeks a new connection on "In Smithereens, the Search for Affinity," but by the song cycle's end she's thinking back to the day my own hand ripped out my own heart.
Produced by Joey Lemon, of the Chicago-based band Berry, the arrangements provide brooding strums of acoustic and electric guitars, lightly played drums and bass, and the occasional harmonica, tambourine, or vocal harmony. The disc's tracks segue without gaps, deepening the emotional pull by sewing the songs together into a tragic narrative of physically linked chapters. The combination of idiosyncratic vocals, ominous lyrics, and moody arrangements create a supernatural air that's fully realized in only five songs and 21 minutes. (Ramseur Records)
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