RED HORSE PRODUCTIONSOne of the best things about being a reviewer is that occasionally an album on a small or privately owned label comes along that features a little-known performer with the potential to become a major artist.
DON MICHAEL SAMPSON
Songs of life on the road
Don Michael Sampson - Vocals, Acoustic Rhythm Guitar, Percussion
Frank Reckard - Acoustic and Electric Lead Guitar
Ben Keith - Dobro, Pedal Steel Guitar
Roly Salley - Bass
Jack Bone - Bass, Harmony Vocals
Don Heffington - Drums
Wayne Goodwin - Violin
Jay Spell - Piano, Harmony Vocals, Percussion
Clydene Jackson - Harmony Vocals
Joyce Wilson - Harmony Vocals
Becky Burns - Harmony Vocals
Brenda Burns - Harmony Vocals
Such is the case with Don Sampson, a California-based singer/songwriter, and "Coyote," his second, self-produced, self-marketed album on Revolver Records. While most of Nashville is scurrying to find the hottest crossover tune, .or locate a studio with enough tracks to accommodate the 65,000 strings that producers like to put behind lonesome pickers these days, Sampson is doing his best to retain the crisp folk side of progressive country music.
Several reviewers have likened Sampson's style to the outlaw approach of Waylon Jennings, and careful listeners will hear traces of Dylan, Kristofferson, and Prine in his work. Sampson himself says he hopes "Coyote" has a sense of time-lessness to it in the tradition of Gram Parsons's "Grievous Angel" or Neil Young's "Harvest."
Those are pretty big overalls to fill, but Sampson — more of a songwriter than a singer — is a considerable talent, one capable of crafting haunting and highly literate songs, sometimes, as in Thief in Mexico, about little more than thought and mood. Most of the time, however, he writes about love and life on the road, always with the lyrical sweep of a hippiefied John Donne, as in the chorus from Love Is Like a Wheel.
Doubtless, part of the strength of "Coyote" derives from Sampson's choice of sidemen, including three members of Emmylou Harris's Hot Band — the supremely gifted Frank Reckard on guitar, Don Heffington on drums, and Wayne Goodwin on fiddle — and Ben Keith, who's worked with Neil Young for the past ten years, on pedal steel and dobro. Players such as these make most session musicians sound like play-by-number oafs. Heffington is particularly brilliant on Thief in Mexico, and Reckard's acoustic, Spanish-style solo on Way of a Rose is beautiful beyond words.
"Coyote," like Sampson's first album, "Americansongs," is an uncommonly clean record, having been pressed on Quiex II audiophile vinyl. From start to finish, and from art to engineering (by Rodney Crowell's old songwriting partner, Donivan Cowart), "Coyote" Is a lovely album, a reflection of a poet's soul.
DON SAMPSON: Coyote. Don Sampson (vocals, guitar); vocal and instrumental accompaniment. Way the Wind Blows; Thief in Mexico; You Are the One; Call Me the Blues; Way of a Rose; Down on the Slow Side; Love Is Like a Wheel; Stranger; Blanket of Stars; Fine Wine Love. REVOLVER R-102 $10 (from Revolver Records, P.O. Box 84088, Los Angeles, Calif. 90073).
"Sampson is an inspired writer — all of the songs are his — and a moving performer. Members of Emmylou Harris1 Hot Band provide stellar backing. The lonely lyricism sounds country, but the energy is rock."
"He has much to be proud of both IP's contain memorable lyric passages as well as exceptional picking. 'Thief In Mexico1 and 'Way Of A Rose1 evoke Sampson's Mexican sojourn. 'Fine Wine Love1 and 'Love Is Like A Wheel' and potential hit 'You Are The One' are as inspiring as any truly great love song ever composed. These are uncommonly sincere, strikingly literate, deeply haunting songs."
Robert K. Oermann The Tennessean
"One of the best records, the writer of this article has heard lately. Sampson is one of the most talented singer/songwriters of the last years ... every song is a true delight to listen to. Most beautiful, sometimes poetic lyrics played by some excellent musicians."
Hans van Drunen
"Sampson wrote all the tracks and produced the album as well, so he's one heck of a talented fellow. A song has to be good to hold my attention for over five minutes, and 'Fine Wine Love' does that with some tasty steel by Ben Keith and a heavy rhythm section. Nearly all the tracks are excellent."
Country Music People/UK
"The southern Californian 'kitchen' hasn't been able to eliminate or de-fuse one of its last outlaws. Sampson has been able to successfully resist falling into the pablum. He lives -- and how!
True, his arrangements are softer, the lyrics sweeter, the music more fluid. But the basic feeling remains -- the Jack Kerouac's 'on the road1 yearning, the secret hidden love and impressions from the abysses of American society. Without question I'm nominating 'Coyote' for my personal grammy."
Hans-Hermann Pohle Taxim Magazine/West Germany