John Curtis Sampson,
You Got Me
(Gemstone, 1999)

Fans of country music can only hope that there will be more to come from John Curtis Sampson after hearing this first release. It is clear from this album why Sampson walked away from Canada's East Coast Music Awards with awards for Best New Artist and Country Artist of the Year in 2000. Sampson's lyrics and catchy tunes will appeal to a wide variety of listener, country fan or not. His uptempo pieces are spiced with a wry humour, and his slower, more serious tunes benefit from a smooth, appealing voice.

A native of Port Morien, on Cape Breton Island, Canada, Sampson has been a rocker for much of his career. With the start of his songwriting, however, a country slant was developed, which is certainly a bonus for country music listeners, because Sampson has a lot to offer. Joined by a wealth of talented guests, Sampson provides lead and harmony vocals, acoustic and electric guitars and percussion on his debut album.

As a "sometimes" listener of country music, I really enjoyed this album. It began with the upbeat "Don't Cry, Goodbye," which had a good beat, a catchy tune and agreeable instrumentals. After grabbing my attention with the first tune, the rest of the album did not disappoint. The songs were a good mix, and kept me wondering what sort of song I'd hear next. "When I'm Drinking" shared a sentiment that many of us have felt at some time: "I can't talk to myself when I'm drinking." Apparently, the idea from this song came after (you guessed it!) a night involving a little too much alcohol, and almost never came to be. Sampson wrote down the phrase in a friend's car, and come the next morning, didn't even remember having written it!

Sampson's slower songs are not your typical "Lost my woman and my job and my dog doesn't like me anymore" country pieces. The lyrics are witty, and Sampson's delivery is sincere. "Secret Admirer" is a showcase for Sampson's rich vocals, and includes some good harmonies as well. The mandolin and fiddle are pleasing, and well support the melody. "Mannequin" again displays Sampson's quirky sense of humour, and contains a nice bit of acoustic guitar.

I was impressed by the instrumental arrangements on this recording as well. Sampson and his guest musicians are a capable lot, and well complement Sampson's considerable vocal and songwriting talent. "The Very Last Minute" contains excellent fiddle and guitar, and makes for good "listening" music. I tend to categorize things into "listening" and "dancing" categories, and although this song isn't something I'd necessarily dance to, it was a head-bobbing, toe-tapping kind of "listening" tune. Fiddle and keyboard went well together in "The Meaning of Life" and "Learn to Let Go," which also had some great little guitar bits.

All told, I felt this to be an excellent first album from John Curtis Sampson. His style is very personable, with a quirky sense of humour, appealing vocals, a wonderful mix of instruments, and tunes that make you want to sing. Sampson's voice is well-suited to country music and his songs contain something for everyone. Sampson's next album promises to be a treat, assuming that he can retain and refine the qualities that make this album shine.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]