Material: Borrowing from rock and blues influences such as Jimi Hendrix, artist Sam Johnston displays his wide-ranging material while incorporating what he learned from his time as a Belmont University music major. Johnston’s songwriting leads with his rich storytelling skills. “Old Kinkaid,” a prime example of those skills, is about an old tree at his family’s country property. He had many fond childhood memories and was crushed when he found out the tree was cut down by new homeowners, inspiring him to write the song. “The River,” played near the end of his set, is a popular song as evidenced by comments from his viewers. His use of a slide, which added something extra to the song, gave it a true blues style. The song also featured call-and-response type vocals and was dynamic from verse to chorus.
Musicianship: Johnston’s force as a player lies with his bluesy, syncopated guitar skills. His playing style is somewhat loose, but it brings an edge to the rock music, which would otherwise be derivative. What he lacks, he makes up for in songwriting and lyrical strengths. He did show polarized abilities with the insertion of diverse song styles, such as the covers of Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” paralleled next to his originals like the ballad “Isabelle.”
Performance: Johnston’s performance had some technical setbacks, but as a live stream, who can really nit-pick anyone performing from quarantine in their home, likely without a complete studio setup. Several times the camera was dropped or the mic misplaced, but Johnston did not miss a beat while playing. His energy and emotive facial gestures were also intriguing to watch as it was evident he enjoyed performing even if just from his bedroom. He also gained favor with his audience while taking requests.
Summary: Sam Johnston has great energy and attitude. His hunger and passion to excel are his strengths. He may be a newbie in the industry and scene, but with the right shows and a little bit of skill polishing, he could be a great contender in the Nashville singer-songwriter, blues-rock world. His original material is where he will find notoriety, as many of his songs are fortified with timeless narratives that listeners will find relatable.