Les Sampou,
Les Sampou
(Flying Fish, 1999)

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. Here the sound is bursting with vulnerability beneath the almost lush production. Sampou draws from a vast pool of styles. For instance, ''Sitting On Jupiter'' has a bit of a John Lennon song from The Beatles (White Album) period and is a gutsy piece of rock(abilly). ''Same Fine Line'' recreates the vocal atmosphere and pure pop sound of the golden days of Fleetwood Mac. That Sampou is a noted slide guitarist can be heard on the bluesy ''Afraid of the Dark.'' If Little Feat's Lowell George was still alive, he would have met with some serious competition at last. It's too bad Sampou allows us to hear that instrument only once, even though there are many other mighty fine guitar parts on this record.

Sampou has a very impressive way of singing, full of emotions, still very matter of factly. Whether she's belting or crooning, she's always convincing. It's here, where the comparison to Etheridge makes the most sense.

The lyrics of the opening track, "Broken Pieces," take you right to the intense mood of pain, which is immense in many of the pieces: ''You think that love can conquer hate / survive a knife in the back / I'm sorry dear / but isn't it clear / love ain't coming back.'' There's a lot of anger in "Happy Anniversary": '''I know you meant to give your best' / 'It's the thought that counts' '/ What bigger line of bullshit was / ever spoke out loud / It's what I do to you everyday / that makes me want to fly ... away.''

Lighter moments are very scarce here. And the healing process must be a slow one.

Now, they say that great art comes through great suffering. Les Sampou's new CD seems to prove that point.

It's a truly dark album. And it's a truly great album.

[ by Michael Gasser ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.