Album review: SAMANTHA FISH – Black Wind Howlin’

Ruf [Release date 23.09.13]

Samantha Fish makes much of her growing maturity on her second solo album ‘Black Wind Howlin’. Given the wide variety of relationship songs and a mix of reflective and self confident narratives, it appears she’s taken stock and come out the other side with a clearer sense of who she is.

Unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily translate into a coherent musical direction as ‘Black Wind Howlin’ is a cross genre album with contrasting moods and arrangements in which the most consistent thread is her vocal. And while she’s an intense guitarist, quite often the songs opt for a layered or distorted sound that makes it difficult to know whose is doing what.

She opens with a distorted slide on ‘Miles To Go’, opts for a bigger tone on the rocking ‘Kick Around’ and immerses ‘Go To Hell’ in a stop-time buzz guitar and wah wah, before reverting back to slide again on ‘Sucker Born’ and ‘Over You’.

The title track is a slow dirge on which her vocals match the guitar line to give her a solid base.  The subtle contrast between her vivacious vocals and the vicious high up the neck solo works well, but the song only just makes it out of first gear. And while the guitar parts play an integral part in defining the mood and feel of a piece, it’s still her voice that makes the biggest impact.

‘Black Wind Howlin’ may be a very contemporary take on the blues, but you suspect most of her fans will buy this album simply to hear Samantha tear the hell out of her guitar and phrase eloquently, rather than worry about labelling the music.

She stamps her personality on songs like the defiant ‘Kick Around’ – which rocks out after an unsteady opening rap – and the equally tough and grungy Mike Zito co-write ‘Go To Hell’. And fans will surely relate to the introspective balladry of ‘Over You’. She also explores some sensual tease on ‘Lets Have Some Fun’ and rocks out on the dynamic ‘Foolin Me’ in the company of the mighty Yonrico Scott and Charlie Wooton.

For die-in-the-wood blues fans there’s some dirt sounding slide guitar and a great vocal on ‘Sucker Born’, as Johnny Sansone’s harp weaves in and out of a track that unexpectedly explodes with a distorted wah wah that threatens to shatter the melody into pieces, but ultimately drops back into the slide and harp line

The same combination of harp and guitar also features on Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Who’s Been Talking’, but for the rest there’s a mix of different guitar tones, changing tempos and contrasting material that is shaped by a performer who is never short of a confident vocal and a producer who knows what his client wants.

The opening travelogue of ‘Miles To Go’ is arguably the best song on the album, and Samantha’s singing comes to the fore on the rocking country of ‘Kick Around’ which features Mike Zito on bv’s. She even add libs an extra verse as she hits her stride on a track reminiscent of the Georgia Satellites.

Similarly her phrasing is clear and her diction precise on the breathy ballad ‘Over You’ and the unreconstructed country of ‘Last September’, complete with Bo Thomas’s fiddle.

There’s also a duet with Americana vocalist Paul Thorn on the caustic ‘Go To Hell’ which features some busy soloing that is mixed too far back, while she saves one of her best vocals for ‘Lay It Down’, as she nails the climax of the song with a concluding line: ‘I’ve seen it take a man and break a man in two, He’s just a reckless little runaway got something to prove. Oh(it’s) just another Saturday night’.

If this feels a little like a kitchen sink and all approach, it would be except that producer Mike Zito locks in the grooves, layers the sounds and brightens the vocals, meaning that even on the big production moments such as ‘Heartbreaker’ he gets a great performance from Samantha, who does well to rise above the formidable backing.

The apparent aim of this album was: ‘to have elements of Americana, country and roots’. And she’s certainly achieved that with a confident crossover of those genres, while bringing out the best of the Royal Southern Brotherhood rhythm section.

‘Black Wind Howlin’ is by no means a polished gem, but in her best moments Samantha Fish does enough to suggest that it’s another significant step along the way of a burgeoning solo career. ***½

Review by Pete Feenstra


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