Samantha Savage Smith – A Review

by Lyndsay Thornton

Samanth Savage Smith Plays again in Armstrong tomorrow night!
Mar 11, 2012
9:00 PM
The Armstrong Inn
Armstrong, BC


Stepping into the Streaming Café in Kelowna on Saturday evening, the energy in the packed room is tangible, the crowd chatting animatedly in eager anticipation of Samantha Savage Smith’s performance. Not only is tonight is the first time the 25-year-old Calgary-based singer/songwriter has lent her talents to the Okanagan, but it is also the first show she’s played since embarking on her cross-Canada tour in support of her 2011 debut album, Tough Cookie. The album was produced by Calgary’s acclaimed producer, Lorrie Matheson (Rae Spoon, Ghostkeeper), and was released nationally by Western Famine, with distribution from Arts & Crafts (Broken Social Scene, Feist).


The chatter dies immediately as Samantha swings an archtop guitar around her neck, and the band-members take their places at the front of the room; bassist on the far-right, Samantha on the far-left, and the drummer at the back easily visible between them. With a timid smile, Samantha looks up at the crowd and says shyly into the mic, “I’m just going to start playing,” and with all of her endearing reserve disappearing, she delves boldly into her first song. From the first few notes it is obvious that Samantha Savage Smith defies all expectations of the modern indie songstress; there is no girly airiness or soft, restrained vocals. Her voice is throaty, sultry and powerful, commanding every lyric. There are no blithe melodies either; her music’s raw guitar and substantial low-end could fill a rock-arena.


From the first song of the set, she has the rapt attention of everyone in the room: the array of young hipsters, older couples, and even the little kids who are tucked in behind the sound booth (but later run up to the front for a better view). Samantha, like her audience, is obviously absorbed in her music, and her understated composure is what draws attention to the compelling emotion in her songs. The sparse, stripped-down edge and blues-rock vibe in Samantha’s accompaniments align her with her contemporary influences, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and lady indie-rocker, St. Vincent. But it is her soulful Billie-Holiday-voice, arching over the definitive bass-lines, which makes the sound all her own. Powerful, eclectic, and absolutely controlled, her voice decorates the hauntingly minor-sounding and intricate melodies.


After finishing each song, the audience comes out from under the introspective trance of her music, with enthusiastic applause and a few hoots, and Samantha is all bashful smiles and charm again. “Thanks for listening so attentively!” she says, “but it’s a little terrifying when people are so quiet!” In the tradition of the Streaming Café, whose performing artists take questions via twitter from the in-house and online audience, Samantha engages with her listeners in a sly little tech-dialogue. Somebody tweets, “What are your favorite lyrics from the songs you’ve written?” Samantha replies into the mike that her favorite lyrics are from, “You Always Come to Mind,” the final track on Tough Cookie, and the song featured in her online music video. She confesses that it is, in fact, her favorite song overall, and is personally very important in her life. It is this unguarded sincerity that makes Samantha’s writing so affecting.  The lyrics of “You Always Come To Mind” betray her young age; not only are they strikingly intimate, but they are also skillfully crafted:

“heart as old as a century / agent of sin and misery / why do I still kiss you / when the rings tell us not to.”

Samantha, with sheepish humour, tells the audience that, “I’m going to play some new songs that aren’t on the record, so, if you buy it, you won’t be getting any of this.” But it would be unlike Samantha Savage Smith to hold anything back. Don’t let her cute looks and coy demeanor fool you; she exudes confidence in the performance of her music. She knows exactly where her voice is, and she uses its full capacity with unnervingly perfect pitch. For her last song, she chooses to play something she only finished writing a couple weeks ago, “I’m feeling good about it though, so I’m going to play it.” After getting it started on her second try, her risk pays off; the new song proves she’s developed even further musically, and it leaves the audience hungry for Samantha Savage Smith’s next endeavor.

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