Punch Brothers The Phosphorescent Blues In reviewing their 2010 album, Antifogmatic, I noted that Punch Brothers were “rapidly evolving into a string-band version of Radiohead.” That assessment comes to full fruition on The Phosphorescent Blues, at once the band’s most obtuse and most accessible album. Opening with the 10-plus minute suite of “Familiarity,” Punch Brothers have never been so forward with their hybrid of classical sophistication with prog-inspired Bluegrass, as the track ebbs and flows between “Amen!” exclamations right out of high mountain gospel and intricate vocal harmonies that would fit seamlessly on Brian Wilson’s SMiLE. The band’s technical virtuosity is on full display on the instrumental performances of wondrously complex arrangements by DeBussy and Scriabin.
Samantha Crain hails from Shawnee, Oklahoma, and along with the Midnight Shivers, performs a variety of folk-esque rock that seems to have, by osmosis, absorbed the roots, Americana, and country flavors associated with her small town upbringing. However, listen to them in interviews and you are as likely to hear talk of Radiohead as you are Woody Guthrie, which is perhaps a sign that geography is not as influential as it once was. With so many traditional (i.e. alt) country artists coming out of California, one certainly can’t deny Oklahoma its indie-rock influences.
With Songs in the Night, the full-length debut following last year’s The Confiscation EP, Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers recorded eleven tracks in five days with producer Danny Kadar. It is a debut that feels comfortable. In fact, while the potential obviously lurking around the corner can leave one wanting, its natural sound speaks to endless nights on the road honing their craft.
Particularly appealing throughout Songs in the Night is Samantha Crain’s delivery, which makes one imagine a Neil Young/Bjork lovechild. The album bursts with heartfelt songwriting, natural charisma, and elusive enunciation. This effect is no doubt a byproduct of the group recording live in studio, a choice that really captures their energy. Flanked strongly by the Midnight Shivers’ ideal infusion of electric guitar Crain presents a first-rate follow-up, one that should invite new fans but still satisfy followers of the group.