Kashena Sampson – Wild Heart
New Moon Records – 18 May 2018 (UK Release)
Released in the States last year, Kashena Sampson’s highly acclaimed debut finally makes its way to these shores to coincide with a handful of live dates (see below). Word of mouth has already built a considerable overseas following, and wider access to her album can only serve to boost this. Originally from Las Vegas, she grew up singing in a band with her sisters before music took a backseat in her post-college years when she moved to LA, turning to booze and drugs until she cleaned up her act and got a cruise ship gig. Drawing on that experience and armed with a clutch of self-penned songs, she eventually moved to Nashville and set about putting her album together. Having already established a reputation for her live work, the album was eagerly anticipated and duly racked up glowing reviews, Rolling Stone comparing her to Bobbie Gentry and Stevie Nicks and naming her one of ‘10 New Country Artists You Need to Know’.
That gives a somewhat inaccurate picture. Yes, there’s country here, most notably on the Parton-esque Greasy Spoon (a sort of 9 to 5 number reflecting her time waiting tables) and the honky-tonking That Don’t Sit To Well With Me which adds Tammy and Loretta to the mix. By way of a shift of comparisons, the slow building ballad She Shines also hints at Mickey Newbury.
But, the dominant influences here are gospel and soul, both of which allow her to give full expression to her powerful but restrained voice. It opens with the need for self-belief themed Away From Here, John Estes (who also provides cello, pedal steel and mandolin), underpinning her on organ, the vocals soaring to the high notes, then eases its way into the bluesier, spiritual groove It’s a Long Way Back where you can hear the soul of someone who’s seen the down and paid her dues to fight her way back up. There’s a definite touch of Joplin here.
To an extent, the same holds true of the title track, an impassioned let me be free to be who I am number that also harks to classic 60s soul Estes again providing the bedrock backing with Jeremy Fetzer contributing a moody guitar break. He does them same again as she mines similar Atlantic soul territory on the slow dance sway of Never Give Up, a number you could hear one of the Franklin sisters or even Otis himself singing.
The album’s only non-original number also offers an insight into her musical roots, a version of the traditional Negro spiritual blues Motherless Child that starts off with a capella vocals before cello, violin and a funeral march drum rhythm take her hand to share the weight and pain as she draws out the notes, the spirits of Mahalia Jackson, Odetta and Bessie Griffin clearly in the studio during recording.
The slow swaying Hold Me Close takes a different tack, still soulful but, with its strings arrangement, suggesting a shade of Jimmy Webb while that big dramatic flourish midway in has an air of Orbison about it. It ends on a moodier note with Come Back To Me, a keyboards accompanied number that shares its DNA with Nina Simon’s version of Lilac Wine or Julie London’s Cry Me a River as, carried by drums and cello its builds to a rousing climax and tremulous fade.
Whilst it would be good to hear her let rip on some slightly more uptempo numbers, perhaps bringing in a brass section (maybe on her next album), there’s no faulting this impressive and career-making debut and, to misquote the Yardbirds, her wild heartful of soul.
Kashena Sampson UK Dates
Thursday 31 May – London – Slaughtered Lamb
Friday 1 June – Red Rooster Festival
Sun 3 June – Halifax – The Lantern
Mon 4 June – Sheffield – Greystones
Wed 6 June – Brighton – The Prince Albert (w/ Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay )