ALBUM REVIEWSReviews of Albums by Les Sampou from Present back to 1996. (Her 1993 Cd Sweet Perfume is out of print.)
"With her fifth album, "Lonesomeville," Sampou stakes her claim as a no-BS singer-songwriter who's surviving with grace and grit. Sampou has written all the songs of "Lonesomeville" with Raymond Carver's hard-edged minimalism and Emily Dickinson's startling poetic images. In the current music scene, tattoos trump gutsy lyrics and tight abs count for more than dark nights of the soul. Face it. Lady Gaga will win the outrageous outfit contest. And post-rehab Britney Spears makes videos that resemble workout tapes for "The Biggest Loser." But Sampou never hits a false or sudsy note throughout the whole CD. She delivers the sort of honest epiphanies that arrive at 3 a.m. in a voice that might have had too much to drink but never too much to feel. In her CD's starkly gorgeous cover, Sampou stands in the middle of a bleak highway, guitar by her side, staring toward a distant horizon and open skies. Unfold the cover and now she's now standing at the apex of three converging roads. And those roads beckon." Chris Bergeron/DAILY NEWS STAFF
"Been listening to "Lonesomeville" -- genius " jp jones, songwriter
“Lonesomeville” captures Sampou at the height of her powers. This is a finely detailed set of songs that lean on the blues and injected with more than a bit of rock ‘n’ roll. This is a lady who sings with fire and soul and who can shake you in your boots or break your heart with her lucid and muscular guitar playing. If you see that lonesome highway, one of the quickest ways to stem the melancholy is to pop this in the CD player, turn it up and forget to look back. “ Ken Capobianco, contributing writer Cape Cod Times.
“Skip the American Idol pyrotechnics and hear a singer who knows how to wring the meaning and emotion out of a song... Sampou’s singing is all you’d want, alternately sassy and seductive or contemplative and regretful. ” Rich Eldred, The Cape Codder.
"Hot is the understatement of the year for this release! It’s fu%king great! And what a band!"
Troy Tyree WOMP Productions
“Les Sampou takes us to Lonesomeville and brings us right to the bar with soulfulness, heartache & a good A$$ Kickin’!!!” John Laurenti, Music Director, WUMB
"On her long-awaited fifth album, 'Lonesomeville,' Les Sampou soars over a bracing set of sly, lived-in songs about mismatched lives, hard goodbyes, and honky tonk heartbreak. With a tough and tender voice that can be every bit as stinging or sultry as her slide guitar, Sampou deftly mixes bluesy soul with country twang and down-to-earth storytelling. All of which makes 'Lonesomeville' not such a bad place to be after all -- especially if she's playing there." -- Jonathan Perry, Boston Globe "Scene & Heard" columnist
“Les is roaring back with her best CD, a sinewy, blues-rocking delight…! Scott Alarik, Boston Globe
"...That's Les Sampou from her new album Lonesomeville. It's just an extraordianary album... !" WUMB on air DJ
"Les is back, and she's back with a fervor and a passion that sweeps you off your feet....Lonesomeville is an Americana mix of blues and soul-tinged country. There is plenty of loving—hard loving, soft loving, lustful loving—in all kinds of places and spaces—on a train, in bed, on the road, and on the sly....And then there is the voice—sometimes tough, sometimes tender, and sometimes only rough around the edges. ....Les surrounds herself with some of the Boston area's best musicians: Kevin Barry (Mary Chapin Carpenter; Paula Cole) on guitar, Paul Kochanski (Swinging Steaks) on bass, Andy Plaisted (The Giant Kings) on drums and percussion, Mike Dinallo (The Radio Kings) on guitars, Jimmy Ryan on mandolin, and David Ogden and Mark Cunningham on backing vocals. This band of musicians strut their stuff on the driving percussion and guitar-laden sound of Long Hard Train. It's a musical tour de force.... Les's sexy vocals walk the tightrope with equally scintillating accompaniment on electric guitar by Kevin Barry. ...Lonesomeville takes us through lonely hotel rooms, long, hard train rides, honky tonk highways and the bedrooms of hard living lovers. The lucky listener gladly goes along, following Les Sampou on this journey, getting lost in the sexy sway of her voice, and in the tales of love and lovers along the way. Lonesomeville delivers the very best of Les Sampou. Country and blues have never been so luscious and deeply satisfying to listen to. Les hits a bull's eye in the land of lonesome; in the land of love."
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Roberta B. Schwartz
BORROWED & BLUE, 2001
It's Sampou's fourth album, but her first devoted to classic country blues and her own blues-inflected originals, and it's an intense, utterly persuasive CD. It's also Sampou's first unadorned album, made with just her guitar and vocals. And it was made the old-fashioned way: with no edits or overdubs, recorded in a mere six days in the home of Newport, R.I., musician/engineer JP Jones. "My fans have been asking me to do a blues album for years, and I felt I had finally reached a place, technically, where I'm comfortable doing an album recorded live and bare." said Sampou. Sampou's lived-in songs flow right along with the works of John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Blind Blake and Tommy Johnson. There's a beautifully mournful version of You Are My Sunshine, and a sinewy take on Bob Dylan's Meet Me in the Morning. Her own Chinatown is a gem of revivified blues language. The guitar work is up to snuff, and the vocals are knowledgeable of the tradition, yet still personal.
AMERICANA BACKROADS, Rik James, KGLT-FM, Bozeman, MT
"I just love it! Beautiful vocals, great playing. Spectacular material. What more could anyone ask for? I will talk it up, but mostly will play it -- loud, and often."
PATRIOT LEDGER, Jay Miller
"The Norwell resident has long tread a stylistic path between folk and blues, forging her own unique blend. But here she does 16 acoustic blues numbers in a bare bones solo setting, recorded in JP Jones' home studio in Rhode Island. Sampou's guitar work is breathtaking-her six-string mentor Paul Rishell must be proud. Most notably her vocal work is thrilling, adding layers of emotional depth to this eclectic mix of four Sampou originals, old classics by the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Blind Willie McTell and some surprises, like Bob Dylan's Meet Me in the Morning. An understated triumph."
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE, Scott McLennan
" ...stunning combination of voice guitar and material! Sampou aims for the listener's gut with every note on Borrowed & Blue."
WATD, Joan Orr
"Natural and good and solid and real!"
WORCESTER MAGAZINE, Charlene Arsenault
"A creamy rich collection of country blues... magnificently bluesy voice and artful slide and pickwork..."
PATRIOT LEDGER, Steve Ide
"The reason that this 16-song CD has gotten heavy airplay on folk radio is obvious--Sampou's honest, guttural, passionate inflections, captivating slide guitar and haunting melodies cut to the roots of the music."
THE RECORD, Don Wilcock (Author of Buddy Guy's biography)
"Borrowed & Blue, released this year on her own label, was recorded in J. P. Jones' spare bedroom in Rhode Island where she drove back and forth from Boston for six days straight. It's got it. You can hear it on the first notes. This is finger bleeding raw picking with guts, and a voice that sounds a lot like Rory Block. There's one interesting difference, however. Rory can't write blues songs that sound like the traditional songs she covers. Les Sampou can."
BOSTON HERALD, Daniel Gewertz
"Sampou's Gritty Classics Prove Less Is More" (January 18, 2002)
"Fans of local songwriter Les Sampou have long known that the girl can sing the blues. But her new CD, Borrowed & Blue, will still hit like a revelation.
DIRTY LINEN, Peter Hofmann
"Never a disappointment. A cross between Rory Block, Michelle Shocked and Bonnie Raitt, the New England-based Les Sampou delivers yet another solid album. Sampou, an acoustic steel string and slide artist, combines self-penned songs along with renditions of mainly Mississippi blues, on this CD. While Melissa Etheridge may have made a deal with the devil for fame and fortune, the financially poorer Sampou is the real thing. On this, her fourth release, she delves into the history of the deep South with only her strongly interpretive voice and superb guitar work. Borrowed & Blue , recorded live in six days, is an illustration of acoustic blues by an artist in command of the genre explored. The solo Sampou captivates with her own original work as well as gems by Fred McDowell, Willie McTell and Bessie Smith, along with others. "
SING OUT!, MR
"In a completely solo album of acoustic blues, some of her own alongside familiar classics, Les Sampou reveals herself to be a formidable interpreter of the genre, reminiscent of a young Bonnie Raitt or Rory Block. Her guitar playing is authoritative and she sings with a voice that understands the nuances and poetry of the blues. Depending on the song, she sounds tough, sweet, sexy or sly."
FOLK FURY, Dan Alloway, KTEP El Paso, TX
"Les Sampou's new CD, Borrowed & Blue, simply floored me. It was like Les came right through the speakers and hit me with a roundhouse right hand. She sings with conviction and accompanies herself deftly on the guitar. Check out the wicked slide parts. The songs convey the message that in this world of everyday toil & trouble, music is the key to ease a worried mind. This CD will be spinning on FOLK FURY for sometime to come."
BOSTON GLOBE, Scott Alarick
"Borrowed & Blue is the CD Les Sampou's fans always hoped she'd make. Armed only with her guitar, searing mezzo, and a Monday-morning-size case of the blues, she delivers a solo set of folk blues. She takes classics by Robert Johnson, Blind Blake, Mississippi John Hurt, and Bob Dylan, reinventing and reinvigorating them until they fit her style like a tight pair of jeans; and her own tunes crackle with modern sensibility."
LIVE365, Midnight Rider
"Now, here is some acoustic blues that I can really sink into. Les Sampou has put together these 16 songs, and every one is a pleasure to hear. One of my favorites is a song called "Lorraine", the first track, a catchy and memorable tune. From there, the album goes from one good song to another."
KEOS, John Roths, KEOS Music Director, College Station, TX
"WOW! This is gutsy blues with great slide guitar. She mixes her own songs with those of classic bluesmen, and even one from Dylan, and delivers them with a catchy alto voice."
FOLKS IN NELSON CONCERTS, David Pyles
"An aggressive performer, an insightful songwriter, and a downright mean guitar player...I was once sitting in the audience with Chris Smither at the Kerrville Folk Festival when Les was there performing in the songwriter contest (which Les won). Chris looked at me and said 'Damn, where did she learn to play that guitar?' If you know Chris Smither's music, you know that's high praise. He's one of the best. Even though she was born in Connecticut and lives in Massachusetts, she seems to channel a mountain woman from west Tennessee when she sings the blues."
TAUNTON DAILY GAZETTE, Charles Winokoor
"Sampou knows how to express loss, longing and good times remembered. She tackles (the) blues like a full-blown rushing hurricane, her slide guitar and voice pushing against each other... Sounds like some of what Jimmy Page had going on... Sampou manages to distill that essence of blues power with just her voice and guitar."
FOLK & ACOUSTIC MUSIC EXCHANGE, Roberta B. Schwartz
"Les Sampou is not only Boston's best known girl with guitar, she is also one of the area's most versatile blues artists. Early in her musical career she hooked up with legendary bluesman Paul Rishell, and developed the chops she wows audiences with today. Among her idols are Bonnie Raitt, with whom she shares a powerful slide guitar style. For years Sampou's fans have clamored for an all blues album. Borrowed & Blue, Sampou's self-produced effort on her own MoNando Music label, is a labor of love - a gift to her fans who cannot get enough of her bluesy voice and slide guitar."Borrowed & Blue gives us nothing but Les Sampou and her guitar. Recorded live in an upstairs bedroom at engineer J.P. Jones's home, it is a remarkable achievement for the way it captures Sampou's sound, and for its honesty, directness and simplicity.... It is remarkable in that the recording reaches out to a wider audience, introducing the blues in a way that is fresh and new, yet remaining respectful of its traditional forms. Les Sampou, the blues, and slide guitar. It just doesn't get any better. Borrowed & Blue Is a stellar recording; a classic."
INNER VIEWS, Kenneth J. Souza
Les Is More
"I've always maintained the sign of a good musician is someone who can appreciate other musical styles and filter that work through their own life experience, resulting in a healthy homage - not this rampant trend of remakes and rip-offs which has become the norm in American pop music. .. A longtime area concert favorite, Sampou has released her fourth CD, Borrowed & Blue, a raw, stripped-down, live-to-two-track session recorded at the home of friend and fellow musician J.P. Jones in Newport, RI. This genuine and refreshing recording benefits solely from the seasoned singer's heartfelt vocals and searing steel-string slide acoustic guitar chops. No band, no edits, no sampling, no overdubbing, no nonsense.... That seems to be Ms. Sampou's mantra. A self-taught musician, she listened to records that ranged from Sarah Vaughn to the Talking Heads in order to learn how to sing and play. As a result of this varied repertoire of "teachers", Ms. Sampou's music is somewhat eclectic and hard to categorize. She is a musical chameleon, singing like the "old timers" when she presents her classic country blues renditions, and then switching her elastic vocals to include dramatic nuances in her rock originals, twang in her country sing-alongs and velvet in her folk ballads. The thread is the conviction she displays in her passionate delivery....It's interesting to note that Ms. Sampou has returned to her roots for her latest recording. She first got her start in Boston's Haymarket subway stop in 1985 where she went down into the tunnels to perform her small repertoire amid the shrieks of subway trains and the din of pedestrians, repeating her songs over again between stops, while people asked for directions and borrowed token money. It was there in the tunnels that Sampou met Ellie Mae Higgins and together they started a duo called Double Edge. Higgins and Sampou traded off guitar leads and rhythms, and lead and harmony vocals on classic songs like Irene by Leadbelly, and various R&B and Motown tunes by the likes of Percy Sledge, James Brown, Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett, along with a wide variety of country blues covers by musicians including Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and many more. Some of Ms. Sampou's early influences also include Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Lowell George of Little Feat. "It wasn't until 1989 that she began writing and performing all of her own material and within a year Les Sampou was touring across the country, in Canada, and then off to Europe. Despite her early yearnings to be in a rock 'n' roll band, it was Ms. Sampou's solo act that caught on. By her second CD, Fall from Grace, Ms. Sampou was drawing widespread acclaim in the singer-songwriter market from Boston to California. "Since 1993, Ms. Sampou has released four albums - two on her own label, MoNando Music, and two with the well-known Cambridge-based Rounder Records. Her 1993 Sweet Perfume grabbed the attention of DJs and press people in the Boston area who gave her unanimous praise and support culminating in the Best New Artist award from WUMB. Rounder Records signed Sampou shortly after that, and her second album, Fall from Grace was released in 1996. Her third album, also on Rounder, was released in 1999 under the self-titled Les Sampou, and it represented a sweeping change stylistically for her, producing a modern rock arrangement that garnered high praise. Now comes Borrowed & Blue, an addictive collection perfectly suited for a lazy Sunday afternoon with a brimming hot cup of coffee. "
LES SAMPOU, 1999
SONGWRITER'S MONTHLY, New York City
"This album just can't seem to stay out of the CD player. It's one of those that you just can't get enough of. Sampou is one of the best lyricists to be found in this era of the singer/songwriter. She has a mastery that many accomplished writers can only marvel at and possibly secretly envy. Les really understands that it's not about using big words and alienating her audience, she speaks eloquently in a simple, conversational tone that is brilliantly constructed. Her voice reaches a new level of enchantment with its husky soulfulness this time around as well. Simply put, this is the best work of her career and a must have album...."
APPEL FARM MUSIC FESTIVAL, Sean Timmons, Producer
"I was knocked out by the CD ("Les Sampou"). Every so often an album comes along in a particular genre that ups the ante for everyone else. This is a powerful artistic statement with commercial potential....These days it's rare to find an album that holds my attention from beginning to end. Albums have their high points and low points. On the CD player it's easy to skip the bits that don't excite. (Les's) album is a complete work that sustains throughout. It is a powerful achievement... and it stands out among the best things I've heard in a long while."
"Gorgeous...top-notch....attitude and powerful voice..."
BUG MUSIC PUBLISHING, David Hirshland
"A stunning CD! A breakthrough album...."
MUSIC MATTERS REVIEW, Roberta B. Schwartz
"Les Sampou rocks. And she rocks in a big way on her new self-titled CD "Les Sampou". To say that it's her breakthrough recording is simply not praise enough. Les Sampou's music defies categorization. She has covered everything from pop, to the blues, to rock, to traditional singer/songwriter fare... "Les Sampou" is her crowning achievement...While it has its lighter moments, there is a lot of darkness here. It clearly comes out of a great deal of pain, healing and self-discovery. But out of great pain often comes great art, if not great wisdom....Whether your preferred mode of listening is rock, pop, or folk, it's just great music. And no one spins a tale like Sampou. Take a listen. She rocks with the best of them."
THE BOSTON GLOBE, David Wildman
"When it comes to fiery singer/songwriters with dramatic melodies and clever turns of phrases, Les Sampou can certainly compete with the best of them."
METRONOME MAGAZINE, Karl Baldrate
"Razor sharp songwriting skills and impassioned performances."
RAMBLES, Michael Gasser
"It's a striking change of direction for Les Sampou. Where once the acoustic blues was reigning, the acoustic part has been dropped and a guitar-driven mix of pop, rock and folk has taken its place. The bitter end of a relationship made Sampou write some very personal lyrics. As a consequence she searched for an equivalent sound in her music. Raw emotions sometimes need powerful backing, and neither the electric guitar nor the Hammond organ are strangers on this release. Sampou has strayed away from what used to be her music, adding alternative sounds now. Some arrangements could come from a top notch chart song. Melissa Etheridge is named quite often as a comparison; this is not wrong, but doesn't do justice to the Sampou's music. Etheridge goes for sheer power because she's got not much else to deliver. Sampou's music though is of a different fabric, even if the texture may seem similar at first glance."
DAY & NIGHT MAGAZINE, Joe Burns
"Self-titled albums often indicate a debut recording, and though "Les Sampou" follows "Sweet Perfume" and "Fall from Grace," it is in many ways a debut for Sampou, an Olympian leap that leaves the past in a pile labeled "before"..."
THE BOSTON HERALD, Daniel Gewertz
"A new Les Sampou is evident on her third album. Her blues have toughened into a smoldering rock...the vocals glow and quaver, making Sampou resemble a rock diva more than a folk-pop songwriter...lacerating songs that look hard and straight at fear and weakness."
WBUR-BOSTON, Scott Alarick
"Les Sampou represents the next generation ... taking the musical architecture and earthy imagery of the blues as tools with which to write her own very modern, very individual and very forceful music ... rock fired, lyrically fierce, ... drawn to the swaggering sexuality of the blues as she is to its strutting self reliance... expressions of defiance, pride and above all, resilience..."
DIGITALCITY BOSTON, John Black
"Les Sampou" is a remarkable CD full of the kind of songs you play over and over again. Listening to songs like "I Want You" -- and believe me I've listened to it enough to wear a groove in my CD -- you can only wonder why Sampou isn't in regular rotation on radio stations across the country. Sampou's mature voice and intelligent heartfelt lyrics make the current flavors of the month on the radio sound like the lightweights they are."
TOTALLY ADULT, John Schoenberger
"At a time when female artists are clearly at their apex, there remains room for another who's got the right talent and message. Les Sampou is certainly at the front of the line for increased awareness and popularity....Exquisite multi-level-meaning lyrics, excellent guitarist and an emotional vocalist. With "Les Sampou, " these three qualities stand proudly in the light."
CDNOW, Drew Wheeler
"This ambitious, expansive effort from Les Sampou shows how the Boston blues-folkie has graduated into the creation of more complex tunes, with a broader-based appeal. Her song craft is evident from the mounting, stirring harmonies of the glistening tune "Hanging By a Thread"; the yearning, multitracked vocals and pure-pop guitars of "I Want You"; and the dramatic, declarative strains of her admirable folk-rocker "Same Fine Line." "Wiry guitars attend the bluesy stomp of "Sitting on Jupiter," which carries a barely perceptible strain of Brecht/Weill-styled drama, and her blues background comes to the foreground on "Afraid of the Dark," with her Bonnie Raitt-like delivery. "But "Baby" finds Sampou accompanied solely by piano in an emotional, torchy duet. To some ears, this potent pairing may offer one prediction of her vast, creative future."
ALL-MUSIC GUIDE, Cub Koda
"Sampou takes a left turn from her usual folk-blues sound to embrace a bit more of modern rock arrangements and guitar sounds to cushion the brutal reality of her often pointed lyrics. It all works magnificently, with songs "Broken Pieces," "Hanging by a Thread" and "I Want You" all resonate with music and production every bit as fine as the songwriting they frame. Plenty of raw emotion and great sounds."
FALL FROM GRACE, 1996 (charted #17 in Gavin Americana Charts)
"Les Sampou is not just another singer/songwriter! All too often we get albums overloaded with mediocrity... not so with Ms. Sampou's Flying Fish debut. The material is ALL TOP NOTCH. Les writes about real stuff for real folks. Watch for this one."
THE BOSTON PHOENIX, Seth Rogovoy
"Les Sampou's Flying Fish debut (her second album) highlights her sexy, muscular vocals and confident blues picking on a dozen carefully drawn originals that - in the tradition from which she stems - stick close to home.... When she really lets loose she hits the spot Melissa Etheridge must dream about. Far from being a 'fall from grace,' Sampou's latest is more like a great leap forward."
THE BOSTON HERALD, Daniel Gewertz
"If rock and roll singing is about attitude and contemporary folk is about feelings, then a blues-based singer-songwriter needs to be about both. With her new album, "Fall from Grace", Les Sampou has become one of those rare figures on the scene who merges depth with flamboyance. She combines true blues heat with a poet's expressiveness. "Fall from Grace" is a thrilling step forward. The commanding vocals and sinewy sound are immediate pleasures. The songs tell tales, reveal tough thoughts and turn terse phrases in a natural flow."
THE MUSIC MATTERS REVIEW, Michael Devlin
Review of Fall from Grace
"Perhaps it's deliberate. The CD art features black and white photos of Sampou, with the title and her jeans in blue. Her songs fit nicely in her blues style, but it is the gray areas that are the most interesting. Although her voice is pure blues-rock with sultry low notes sung from the belly, she looks out at you with the life observant eyes of a singer-songwriter. It is her storyteller's knack, and the ability to get it all down in straightforward lyrics and street level imagery that sets her apart. "Alibis" is a butt-kicking ain't taking no excuses rocker in which she belts out in the chorus, 'Don't tell me people can't change.' That's pure, in your face, good attitude! On another level is "Flesh and Blood", a power ballad about a schoolgirl and her blood sister whom she abandons when she finds out she is gay. She learns one of the hard truths about herself, 'They say that water is not as thick as blood/ But I know fear can betray love.' "Sampou's powerful delivery of "String of Pearls", is perfect, for the story of a strong-willed daughter who rejects her mother and the string of pearls that she wants her to have. Their significance is in the fact that, 'They've seen birth, they've seen death/ They've seen sons off to war/ An endless chain of joy and pain.' The sound of this strong voice singing the daughter's part when she is reunited with her mother is all the more poignant as we sense the strength it takes to say yes and accept a precious gift.
"This is remarkable music from a woman who can sing the blues and write the grays!"
SILVER PLATTERS, Steve Witt, Seattle
Review of Fall from Grace
"When I first started listening to this disc, Michelle Shocked's "Short, Sharp, Shocked" immediately came to mind. I know, it's not polite to compare. But this was a pleasing comparison, as I'm quite fond of the great folk/blues/country mix of "Short, Sharp, Shocked". Sadly, Michelle does not do much of that sound anymore. But Les does, and I think that is just fine.
"If the notion of folk music triggers your Snagglepuss gland ('Exit.... Stage Left') at the agonizing thought of one more sensitive folk singer, listen up right now! Les Sampou has the deep, resonant voice of a blues singer, and that same tough approach to her songwriting and guitar playing that a blues player would have. You may trust me about this. Your stereotypical image of a warbling folk singer doesn't fit here. This is muscle and blood; this is folk with fangs (mammalian, not reptilian), which is not to say that we're talking about the Snow Queen, but we're not talking about Snow White either.
"As this title isn't likely to get a lot of attention in the mainstream press, I would like you to run out and buy it right now lest you forget about it. You may never hear of it again, and your life and your CD collection could both wind up less than fulfilled. It ("Fall from Grace") and she (Les Sampou) are the real enchiladas with a pitcher of DoubleHook. Bon appetit."
SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN
"This Boston-bred singer-songwriter brings a blues-tinged Bonnie Raitt/Rory Block resilience to her original story-songs. Recorded with a full compliment of guitars, bass, drums, organ and piano, plus Jerry Portnoy blowing harmonica, Sampou's second album stands out in the rapidly growing catalog of modern folk. Her singing is straightforward and emotionally generous and her lyrics finely crafted into tales you want to hear again."
THE BOSTON GLOBE, CD PICK, Craig Harris
"A heartfelt blend of acoustic blues and folk music and a highly literate lyricism are combined by singer-songwriter-guitarist Les Sampou. With her second album, "Fall from Grace", the Cape Cod native takes another step forward. While Sampou's songs remain true to her musical roots, her affinity for verbalizing deep emotions continues to evolve... Sampou projects her darkest soul with conviction and believability."
VICTORIA (CANADA) TIMES-COLONIST
"Les Sampou has an earthy, soul-revealing directness and down-to-earth charm. The dozen original songs on "Fall from Grace" are well-crafted, finely detailed narratives that Sampou brings to life with her smoldering, passionate readings. They have the ring of truth. They sound like scars... She's a wise, honest writer whose most personal lyrics have a universal meaning and power. This is a great record. Highly recommended."
"New England singer-songwriter Sampou has a distinctive folk and blues style that has made her a favorite at folk festivals from Philadelphia to Kerrville. An American storyteller, Sampou is joined by guitarist Duke Levine and harmonica wiz Jerry Portnoy on "Fall from Grace". Produced by Mason Daring, "Holy Land", "The Things I Should've Said", "Home Again" and "Alibis" are great places to begin your introduction to this exemplary artist."
VERMONT VOX, Aimee M. Petrin
"...a talented, guitar-slinging blues mama... her release "Fall from Grace" (Flying Fish, 1996) achieves a wonderful balancing act, bringing together the lyricism of folk with the heat of the blues..."
SOUTHLOOK, Matt Whorf
"Les Sampou has impressed audiences and critics on a national level as one of the folk world's fastest-rising stars... Her voice is deeply and decidedly ingrained in the blues, tough, soulful and resonant... The lilting "Ride the Line" is a heartfelt but bittersweet tribute to adolescent friendships and breaking ties. All of the album's twelve songs offer similarly deeply emotive vocals and lyrics with a mind for rich, storybook detail."
SEVEN DAYS, Pamela Polston
"'When Sampou gets the blues, you get the heat' gushed one writer. "Fall from Grace" does have a way of getting under your skin - I mean that in a good way. You can imagine Sampou sharing a stage with John Lee Hooker on the bluesy "Weather Vane" or "Bull's-Eye", Cowboy Junkies on the melancholy "I Already Know", Emmylou Harris on the gentle mother-to-daughter "String of Pearls" or the Indigo Girls on the sassier closer, "Two Strong Arms". The title track is a mournfully gritty gem - Sampou's emotional depths are not for the faint of heart."
ENDANGERED FOLK SINGER SERIES (WI - USA), Cindi Morgan
"A must-have even for NON-blues lovers! Les Sampou is a wisp of a woman with a powerhouse voice. She also plays a fine, intricate guitar, and tells a story that will pick you up bodily and carry you miles away. In FALL FROM GRACE, her second release, each cut shows her finest gifts in the very best lights. "The liner notes begin, "Les Sampou is tough. She's also tender, and smart. And she plays some very tasty guitar. And damn, can she write a song." Elijah Wald's essay suggests the same spare phrasing that hallmark the compositions on this album. From the opening Notes of "Holy Land," a lazy ballad of pretentious white trash, she hooks the listener and starts reeling. The broader strumming accompanying "Alibis" -- "My dad told me that you can't steal second with your foot on first / And I reckon he's right"-- opens out into full instrumentation as the passion builds. "Things I Should Have Said" takes the experience we've all had, of re-thinking a situation we could have handled better, and paints it in the context of a singer's angry musings on a cross-country drive. The soft yearning of a homebound traveller is delicately embellished in "Home Again." And again, you're right there with her, almost unconscious of the deft production so ably supporting the fine story-telling. "Sampou is adept at vivid imagery, despite a bare minimum of flowery phrases. Whether it's the childhood exhilaration of "Ride the Line," or the bitter discovery of her best friend's homosexuality and her own betrayal ("Flesh and Blood"), she makes the experiences our own. The aching exhaustion of "I Already Know" paints a woman persuading her heart to let go when her mind knows she should. "String of Pearls" uses the metaphor of an heirloom necklace for the values we don't always appreciate until we've proven their worth to ourselves. "Two Strong Arms" is a gritty anthem of a woman giving herself a stern talking-to-- this one's a personal favorite. (An excerpt doesn't do it justice, folks: you just have to hear it.)"I doubt we live in a world where a petite white woman will stand beside B.B. King as a blues icon-- and even Les herself might cringe at the pretension of that image. But for my money, this lady has the stuff of which legends are made. I challenge you to listen to the first cut. I doubt you'll be able to leave without wanting to take her home!"
THE PATRIOT LEDGER, Jay N. Miller, January 31, 2000
Les Sampou at the Wessagussett Coffeehouse, Sea Street and Route 3A, Weymouth
Les Sampou Crosses Genres with Intensity
Discerning music fans hearing Hingham's Les Sampou for the first time might wonder why her albums aren't selling in the millions.
A standing-room-only crowd of about 85 certainly went home entranced by Sampou's on Saturday night show at the Wessagussett Coffeehouse in Weymouth's Unitarian-Universalist Church.
Few of today's top songwriters produce more compelling or distinctive music than Sampou
Sampou has always straddled genres, battling stereotypes as a folk singer rooted in the blues who's able to craft some memorable rock pieces. Her latest album, on the Flying Fish division of Cambridge's Rounder Records, is widely hailed as her most fully realized, but her first two CDs were certainly arresting for their unvarnished honesty of expression.
Sampou's lyrical gifts might even be a bit too sharp for the Top 40, her cinematic eye for detail balanced by incisive wit and unflinching candor. As a musical storyteller, Sampou crafts vivid tales and delivers them with passion and flawless intonation.
Saturday's show was enhanced by the Wessagussett's new sound system, which allowed a true appreciation of Sampou's soaring alto, as well as her multifaceted guitar work. At one point, she spoke reverently about taking lessons from acoustic blues virtuoso Paul Rishell of Cambridge. As she played, it was obvious she's not far behind him in her mastery of acoustic guitar dynamics. Whether it was delicately finger-picked filigrees, heart-rending slide segments, slashing chords or sweet single-note melodies, Sampou created enough sound for a quintet all by herself.
The setlist encompassed all three of Sampou's albums in two sets that totaled 105 minutes of music. "Hanging by a Thread," from her latest album, came the closest to being a pop ballad, but its lyric about coping with life's travails is direct and thoughtful.
The title cut from her second album, "Fall From Grace," used some gorgeous descending vocal arpeggios in the chorus to maximize the haunting quality of the tune. A traditional blues segment of three tunes closed the first set with some of Sampou's most riveting guitar work. In all three cases she delivered the classics with respect, yet with a contemporary flair more suited to a 1990s version. The second set opened with a rollicking folk-rock rendition of "Holy Land," Sampou's weirdly fascinating take on a Southern Gothic family. Next came "Ride the Line," a sweetly loping remembrance of Sampou's horseback rides along the railroad tracks in her hometown of Sherborn. "String of Pearls" is one of Sampou's signature tunes. In it, a grandmother passes on a treasured necklace to a grandchild, a lyrical metaphor for generational change that resonated stringly with Saturday's crowd. Sampou brought out Quincy percussionist Deb Blackadar to provide support on "Two Strong Arms," an ode to overcoming self-doubt. She closed the show with the quiet affirmation of "The Mystery of You."
Sampou's first encore was "Broken Pieces," an "anti-love song" with a deliciously lacerating wit. The finale was a request for "Skip to My Lou," Sampou's comic gem about her 85-year-old Italian grandmother's quirky individuality.
LES SAMPOU BAND LIVE AT THE LIZARD LOUNGE, WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 1999, ROUNDER/FLYING FISH ARTIST'S RECORD RELEASE PARTY, Joe Viglione
"Les Sampou performed to a standing room only crowd at The Lizard Lounge, They tell me Les was a folksinger for years, well this new setting suits her just fine. "Hanging By A Thread"....here's the music that is missing from radio... and these songs! so perfect for AAA or Classic Hits radio... a nice blend of Robin Lane meets Tracy Chapman -this set is STRONGER than the Modern Lovers at the Stone Phoenix 24 years ago.. Les Sampou delivered a grand slam on the same night the new Red Sox player did the same...must be an omen. Easily one of the best and most musical shows I've seen in this area in a long time.
When a rock act can floor you with songs, performance, vocals, and groove, all in a tightly crafted, fun evening, you wonder why it is such a rare occasion in these parts."
WXPN, PHILADELPHIA, PA, Gene Shay
"She's funky; she's flashy; she's a fantastic songwriter! Les Sampou is one of my new favorites..."
BERKSHIRE EAGLE, Seth Rogovoy
"After seeing her show on Sunday evening, about the only thing that Sampou lacks that Bonnie Raitt has is producer Don Was. Sampou played two sets of unerring musical and lyrical integrity... never lacking in honesty and always generous in its passion. Sampou was an engaging performer... switching between two acoustic guitars throughout her two sets, she varied the style and pace among deep bluesy numbers, upbeat pop-influenced tunes and warm ballads."
MAPLE BLUES, Lily Sazz, Toronto, Canada
"Singer? Sure. Songwriter? You bet. Guitarist? Absolutely. But the most compelling thing that makes New Englander Les Sampou stand out is her knack at telling a story through song. Sampou can spin a tale with the sincerity that most often can only be delivered by the person who penned the words, as she did. Her lyrics are descriptive without pretension; her approach sincere and intense."
THE PATRIOT LEDGER, Stephen Ide
"Sampou showed that her own music is full of rhythm and soul - and definitely has a sound of its own... (she) excelled at the kind of traditional guitar work that melds finger-picking, slide chords and single-note lines into a seamless whole that sounds like an entire acoustic band. Vocally, her vivid alto produced a spectrum of emotions from whispered confidences to effortless swoops, startling moans and exhilarating whoops... This is one singer who doesn't fit neatly into any one category - either blues or folk or acoustic rock - but she is able to command the stage as few acoustic solo performers can."
DIRTY LINEN, Michael Parrish
Review of live performance at Old Town School of Music, Chicago, IL
"...letter perfect country blues and slide guitar... strong emotive writer with a keen eye for detail... strong vocal skills, impressive guitar techniques and striking songwriting..."