There’s nothing wrong, in particular, with Samantha Crain’s newest album. Under Branch & Thorn & Tree has nothing noticeably awful about it: no tracks that demand to be skipped immediately, nothing that stands out as bad. The problem is that there’s just not a lot that stands out at all.
There’s a frustrating number of points at which the album has the potential to be something quite special, but manages to mis-step somehow. ‘You or the Mystery’ is an elegy for a mysterious neighbour, an idea that could have turned into to a hauntingly original ballad, but that just ends up tedious: ‘Do I miss you or the mystery?’ is a good lyrical hook, but can’t help but become boring after being repeated over and over, on top of a lazy guitar accompaniment.
Tracks like ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Elk City’ are inoffensive in themselves, but are so similar in their safe little melodies that, seeing as they play one after the other on the track list, you don’t notice when one has ended and the next began. Attempts to break free from this folk-by-numbers formula also fall flat. ‘Big Rock’ is a bizarre foray into county pop, all slide guitar and world-weary lyrical clichés. This unfortunately means that even if you were to zone out with this album as background music – which it could have been perfectly suited for – you’re rudely pulled out of that zone by this odd little wildcard.
There are enough pleasant moments to lift the album out of complete drudgery. ‘If I had a Dollar’, for example, is a genuinely lovely folk song. Its uncomplicated but sweet lyrics recount all the fine things Crain says could do ‘If I had a Dollar/For every minute I’m missing you’. Crain gets points for her voice, too – although it’s nothing special in itself, it’s nicely suited to her gentle folk music, and is quite affecting when paired with her better songwriting.
Despite moments of quality, it has to be said that Under Branch & Thorn & Tree never really manages to be more than a serviceable folk album. Not awful by any means: just a little forgettable.
‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree’ is out now on Full Time Hobby