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Political issues, folk consciousness mix in the Samples


The Samples.

Arista Records.


THE SAMPLES, A FOLKSY TRIBE from Boulder, CO, mix mandolins with reggae and embed their music with a political consciousness about preserving the environment.

The issues on their self-titled debut album are surprisingly expansive. They run the gamut from war protest to the preservation of our oceans and endangered species to the oppression of workers, but the main focus is on the environment. One song, "Close to the Fires," dedicated to "the great spirit of the American Indian," discusses pollution, nuclear testing, oil spills, dolphins trapped in tuna nets, hospital waste on beaches, the logging industry and the fur industry. "Glamorous furs," notes singer/songwriter Sean Kelly, "Can you believe what they once were?"

Their message is simple, never preachy. Kelly sings, "The blue skies are turning brown . . . the oceans are turning black," in "Close to the Fires." It's a succinct, direct statement. Even the more idealistic "I hope to find peace" on the song "African Ivory" is clear and to the point.

Kelly's voice is honest and uplifting, especially on songs like "Birth of Words" or "Ocean of War." While Kelly concedes that The Police were a great influence upon him musically and that the Samples are often likened to The Police, the Samples do not sound like The Police. The mandolin and banjo playing yield more of a folk rock feel, and the flute or recorder sounds which filter in so exquisitely in "African Ivory" and "Close to the Fires" are certainly foreign to Police albums. Perhaps the comparison is in spirit.

If the political correctness of the group gets you down, the real gems on this album have nothing to do with the environment. The aching "Waited Up" and "Birth of Words" are about the demise of treasured relationships. "[I've been] waking up day to day to find that I've given up on you and you've given up on me and we've given up on we," says Kelly on the lovely "Birth of Words", at last finishing, "so watch all this love turn to lies." In contrast, "Could It Be Another Change" documents the beginning of what might be. "The only time I feel good falling is when I'm falling fast and hard for you / The last two digits when I'm calling fade away but somehow I get through."

Already, the Samples have recorded enough material for a second album. They figure the new album will focus on racial tensions, the decline of cities, and feelings of alienation in our society. With luck, their follow-up will be every bit as satisfying as their debut.