Gordie Sampson,
Stones
(Turtlemusik, 1998)

From what you can tell by glancing at the front and back covers, Cape Breton's Gordie Sampson is a solo performer. Not true! Sampson has gathered together an incredible collection of well-known Canadian musicians for this album, and their individual excellence combines here for a fine Celtic folk-rock recording.

It begins sparingly enough. The first, brief track is "Her Favorite Minstrel," featuring Sampson on guitar and keyboards, with guests Natalie MacMaster and Dan Joe MacInnis on fiddles. It's a short, simple and beautiful introduction to the album. Then the rock elements kick in for a Sampson/Jimmy Rankin collaboration, "Still Workin' on a Dream," with Sampson on guitars and vocals, MacMaster on fiddle, Ed Woodsworth on bass, Bill McCauley on Hammond organ, and Declan O'Doherty and Jamie Foulds on "groovage." "Sorry," by Sampson, is a penitent song featuring Sampson on guitars, vocals and Wurlitzer, Al Cross on drums, Scott Alexander on bass, Doug Johnson on pedal steel and Neil Donnell on backing vocals.

Are you starting to get the idea that Sampson has a lot of musical friends? He does. But he scales things back for "The Black Jigs," a traditional set intricately arranged just for Sampson's DADGAD-tuned guitar, as well as a second traditional guitar set, "The Creignish Boogie," which drives a little harder than the last. Then he's back with a crowd: Sampson on guitars and vocals, Mary Jane Lamond on sung and spoken Gaelic vocals, Alexander on bass, Ashley MacIsaac and Howie MacDonald on fiddles, Claude Desjardins on drums and percussion and Denis Keldie on Hammond for the Sampson/Lamond/Duncah Wells composition, "The Blood is Strong." MacIsaac rejoins him later, this time on piano, for a guitar and piano duet of bouncy traditional tunes lumped together under the heading "Angus in Wonderland."

And so it continues, with various musicians joining Sampson for his originals "Trip" and "I Go Deep," the Jimmy Rankin song "No More I'll Go Rovin" (with a strong touch of country music running through it), "Stones," Sinead Lohan's "Sailing By," "Old Ways" (with Ciaran O'Hare adding the distinctive sound of uilleann pipes) and, finally, "Joseph," a poignant folk story penned by Sampson and Bruce Guthro, featuring Cookie Rankin on backing vocals.

As they say, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that's very true here. Sampson brought a fine bunch of performers into the studio for this recording, and their efforts have added extra dimensions to his already fine work. On his own, Sampson is an excellent instrumentalist, particularly on guitar. His vocals are good (reminiscent of Peter Gabriel in tone) and his song-writing is strong. Although Stones may tend further to the rock genre on a few tracks than some traditional music fans might enjoy (and further towards country than I'd prefer at a few spots as well), he's managed to strike a nice balance between traditional styles and modern sounds.

Give Gordie Sampson an hour of your time. I think you'll like what this young Canadian -- with the help of all his friends -- has to say.

[ by Tom Knapp ]