W hen les sampou wraps her arms around one of her steel string guitars and with a three-octave range belts out songs full of vivid detail, audiences can’t help but be transfixed. Occasionally, she will pull up to a piano, take out a harmonica or recite a poem; but she always tells a story about her song’s genesis, drawing the listener in and making it personal.
Sampou is self-taught; she immersed herself in a range of artists from Sarah Vaughn to the Talking Heads to learn how to sing and play. As a result of this varied repertoire of “teachers,” Sampou’s music is 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 a-longs, and velvet in her folk ballads. The thread is the conviction she displays in her passionate delivery.
Les has been honing her chops since her first live performances in Boston’s Haymarket subway station in 1985, playing in folk/blues/R&B duos and trios and performing solo sets of cover songs in bars. By 1989 she was writing and performing her own material, and within a year she was taking it on the road — across the country, to Canada, and to Europe. In the nineties, Sampou performed at all the major folk festivals, winning the coveted "New Folk Award" at Kerrville. Since 1993, she’s released four albums. “Sweet Perfume” garned Best New Artist award from WUMB; “Fall from Grace” topped the Gavin Americana charts nationwide. In 1999 she switched to a modern rock arrangement for her “Les Sampou” album, which garnered high praise.
Today, with her fourth album, “Borrowed & Blue,” Les re-visits her roots. She performs sixteen country blues songs, originals as well as classics like “Big Road Blues,” “Kokomo Blues,” and “Statesboro Blues.” She accompanies herself on steel-string and slide guitars. “I call it ‘Borrowed & Blue’ because I ‘borrow’ most of the songs from other artists and even a few from my own past albums, and well, ‘Blue’ is self-explanatory. There is however a double entendre: I got married recently, and everybody knows the old saying ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ — well, I couldn’t resist,” Sampou laughs. As Boston Globe critic and blues aficionado Elijah Wald said upon hearing it, “If this album doesn’t make a lot of people sit up and listen —well, there is no justice in the world.”