It’s important to know where to find great country music sounds in Nashville—and a little hint, it’s not usually on Lower Broadway where cover bands, tradeshow attendees, and bachelorettes sporting recently purchased cowboy boots dwell. Part of me even hesitates to call Kashena Sampson’s show last Friday at The Basement “country music,” due to the risk of her music being confused with the modern pop-filled pseudo-cowboy image of the genre today–that wouldn’t be accurate or fair to Ms. Sampson. She’s a storyteller, putting her words to music, resulting in folk and blues-influenced Americana-country sound.
I considered not making a comparison between Sampson and Linda Ronstadt. With a vocal range that effortlessly carried songs influenced by soul, traditional and folk country, western swing, and jazz, the comparison is a bit obvious, and I admittedly wouldn’t be the first person to say it. However, with a decided talent of bringing a room to full stop during a heartbreaking, crying-guitar-and-dark-cello-backed ballad, the parallel to Ronstadt is too perfect to ignore.
While quiet, almost timid between each song, Sampson’s passionate singing revealed her deeply emotional link to each word—the crowd was drawn close by Sampson to feel her fire and weather her storms. Contemplating longing, rebuilding trust, and yearning for true love, Sampson pondered and pined, as acoustic and electric guitar blended, on “Wild Heart.” Her added touch of vibrato on “Hold Me Close” lent a soulful touch to the tale of passion that clashed with heartbreak. A gentle drumbeat and brightly-strummed guitar accented determination and rebuilding from rejection on “She Shines,” which featured a powerful vocal performance, dripping with raw energy that came straight from her soul. The room listened intently, and hung on every aching note.
Sampson admittedly spotlights the dramatic in her song selections, none more prominent than her almost Broadway-esque take on “Motherless Child.” However, she can also have a bit of fun, like her playful jab at her non-musical three-week job at The Nashville Biscuit House in “Greasy Spoon.” The song’s beat got heads nodding with a dance-ready, almost rockabilly, western swing feel, while still letting the artist comment on the stepping stones that so many musicians tread while working to make their dreams come true.
It takes something special to connect with an audience and leave everyone wanting more. Kashena Sampson’s bluesy, soulful voice alone would make any room take notice, but that’s not enough for Sampson. Whether you consider it soul-influenced country, folk, or Americana, like those that lit the path before her (Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, a touch of Amy Winehouse), it’s her lyrical storytelling paired with a powerhouse voice that gives her that real Nashville sound.