Les Sampou packs lots of heartache, hard nights and a hint of redemption into a new record that should propel her back on stage. In her first CD in nine years, she will remind old fans and seduce new ones with a 3 1/2-octave voice that's edgy, insinuating and hell-bent on evoking the private moments of a musician, mother and woman who's seen it all.
Les Sampou packs lots of heartache, hard nights and a hint of redemption into a new record that should propel her back on stage.
In her first CD in nine years, she will remind old fans and seduce new ones with a 3 1/2-octave voice that's edgy, insinuating and hell-bent on evoking the private moments of a musician, mother and woman who's seen it all.
With her fifth album, "Lonesomeville," Sampou stakes her claim as a no-BS singer-songwriter who's surviving with grace and grit.
"They're all brand-new songs I wrote in 2008 and last year," she said. "I had about 25 and narrowed them down to nine because I wanted more of an Americana vein. I feel that's the essence of who I am."
"Lonesomeville" was produced by Sampou, David Ogden and Andy Plaisted. It was produced live in Chris Rivals' Middleville Studio.
As if reliving the starts and stumbles of her 20-year career, Sampou sings in a potpourri of vocal styles including folk, blues, rockabilly and country.
"My voices are different because each song comes from a different part of my personality. I want to bring out the character of the song," she said. "My voice is not perfect. But I think it's a strong, edgy voice. Most women singers have a beautiful or soft voice. My voice has a masculine components. A sexual component. A passionate component."
Listen to the album's opening cut, "my, my, my" and you'll understand.
In a teasing snarl, she sings, "You can call me a liar, call me a thief, call me a cheating woman born to walk the street. You can call me anything you want. All I'm guilty of is this: a hot-blooded woman and a passionate kiss."
Even in a unpredictable business, Sampou's career has taken some improbable twists and turns, including her "late start" in her mid-20s.
Growing up in Sherborn, Mass., she convinced her mom to get her piano lessons but spent more time in high school writing plays and poetry.
But like lots of teens in the '70s, Sampou attended concerts at the Orpheum and old Boston Garden, listening to Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan.
"I've been known to jump on a few stages. But it's bizarre. I didn't think of myself as a musician," said Sampou. "It took a long time for me to let the musician inside me break out."
She studied Italian at the University of Colorado but, after returning to Boston, was drifting, uncertain of her next move.
Sampou said her life changed the night she heard Canadian folkie Ellen McIlwaine on her first visit to Club Passim in Cambridge, Mass.
She recalled, "It blew me away. I stepped out of the club and decided I was going to sing. I promised myself I wasn't going to turn 40 and have to say I never gave my dream a shot. I bought a guitar with my waitressing money. I'm so glad it kicked in."
For several years, Sampou was a busker in Boston subways, especially in Haymarket Square, which she described as "debilitating as much as exhilarating." She wrote songs, picked up gigs wherever she could and remembers "hauling my equipment into some half-ass clubs."
"I got into music full time at the age of 30," she said."I wish I started when I was 15."
Sampou released her first album, "Sweet Perfume" in 1993 and three more albums over the next eight years with the last, "Borrowed and Blue," released in 2001.
Asked why the nine-year hiatus between her fourth and fifth albums, she said she "gigged around for two years" after "Borrowed and Blue" and gave birth in 2004 to her daughter Isabella.
Sampou explained, "That put me on hold for three years. Then I put together a local band, 'Tin Angel,' in 2007 and started getting back into music. I started ramping myself up. Lo and behold, I'm loving this."
Sampou has written all the songs of "Lonesomeville" with Raymond Carver's hard-edged minimalism and Emily Dickinson's startling poetic images.
In her ballad of star-crossed "sam & alice," she wrote "Alice was needy as she could be. Sam was a charmer on bended knee. They collided like head-on trains and practically burst in flames."
In a blues-tinged voice, Sampou implores an irresistible but unreliable guy with a "sleeve full of tricks" to "quit playing yo yo with me."
And in the title cut "lonesomeville," she achieves a dark poetry of despair, singing, "Don't call it love. Who wants the curse. Call it need and quench my thirst."
Sampou never hits a false or sudsy note throughout the whole CD. She delivers the sort of honest epiphanies that arrive at 3 a.m. in a voice that might have had too much to drink but never too much to feel. In her CD's starkly gorgeous cover, Sampou stands in the middle of a bleak highway, guitar by her side, staring toward a distant horizon and open skies.
Unfold the cover and now she's now standing at the apex of three converging roads. And those roads beckon.
Sampou said she's been "asking myself" how to balance the demands of a reborn career with the needs of 5-year-old Bella.
"Let's say 'Lonesomeville' gets some attention. I'll definitely tour. But it's tempered by being a mom and what kind of support I can get," she said. "But I dream about doing it again. Getting a Winnebago, me and Bella and a puppy."
To learn about Les Sampou, visit www.LesSampou.com.