Borrowed & Blue
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
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. All of the emotions contained within the songs are laid bare.
The recording opens with a recent Sampou original called Lorraine. Sampou likes to tell of the circumstances that led to the writing of this song. She received a grant to stay at one of the famous dune shacks out in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It did nothing but rain during her stay there, and she had a bad case of writer's block to boot. But the rhythm of the rain and the beauty of the landscape at the tip of Cape Cod brought forth one of her best tunes. Here's a bit of rain, a bit of the blues, and a snippet of the song's lyrics:
The recording contains classic blues as well as Les Sampou originals. Among the classics are Tommy Johnson's Big Road Blues, which states, "I ain't goin' down there...been a long, lonesome road...be all by myself...if I can't carry you sugar, I'm goin' to get me someone else." There's something wonderful about having Sampou stand this tune on its head by singing it from an assertive woman's point of view. Other covers include Bob Dylan's Meet Me in the Morning, which Sampou makes completely her own with her signature vocals. But my favorite cut is Sampou's cover of Blind Willie McTell's tale of moving down the road, Statesboro Blues. The powerful vocals, nimble guitar playing and gutsy delivery are all here. It's pure Les.
And it wouldn't be a blues album without Sampou's original composition, Chinatown, which opens with the best slide guitar chords this side of heaven.
Even You are my Sunshine receives its proper downbeat, bluesy delivery. This is not the happy ditty that we remember from childhood. Just listen to the lyrics....
One of the best musical treats in any genre is hearing Les Sampou sing and accompany herself on slide guitar. Even better is being a member of the audience when she belts out the blues. Borrowed & Blue gives us all of this and more. 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.