Ruf [Release date 17.11.17]
Samantha Fish is fast turning into a musical chameleon, as she pursues a broad musical sweep that is well suited to her versatile voice.
She’s teamed up with roots producer Luther Dickinson – best known for his work with the North Mississippi All-Stars and The Black Crows – on an album that is essentially a showcase for her versatile vocals.
She still contributes significant guitar parts, but mostly in support of a cast of Mississippi based musicians, for whom feel and the primacy of the song is paramount.
She hasn’t entirely jettisoned her blues-rock approach, but she’s expanded her original Kansas City blues, via Nashville tutored songs and sludgy Mississippi rhythms into a rootsy Americana style.
She tops and tails 11 tracks with a rootsy fife and drum intro on the lyrically hard hitting ‘American Dream’ and finishes with the hypnotic blues of ‘Gone For Good’, which could comfortably fit into Otis Taylor’s mode of trance blues.
In between she takes us on a backwoods journey that incorporates rhythmic hill country blues, folk and blues related influences, given a unique twist by her flexible vocal style.
As the album photos suggest, she’s stylistically matured both as an artist and songwriter, who is very much in control of her musical direction. She’s not ditched the blues, but searches for feel, emotions and deep grooves as part of an Americana package wholly in tune with the Mississippi environment of its recording.
Of course she’s not the first blues artist to tap into the kind of hill country blues pioneered by the likes of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough – and later adapted by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hatfitz and Cara and Ian Siegal – but it’s the quality of her songs and her vocals that gives this album its immediacy and presence.
Tracks such as ‘Daughters’ require a patience that might be alien to the urban digital download generation. But just like the album as a whole, the more time you give, the more you get out of it, as exemplified by Jimbo Mathus’s subtle echoed Fender Rhodes and Trina Rainey’s deliberate brush strokes that draws us into the band’s intricate craft.
‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ is even more laid back, but makes a telling use of space, time and her sultry phrasing before reaching for the uplifting hook.
Nothing is hurried and everything has its place. She’s surrounded herself with musicians who know the value of a groove and to that end she extends her vowels and adds deliberately phrased lines that segue into a luscious guitar line.
‘Belle Of The West’ carves out her signature style over a timeless bluesy backdrop which she infuses with her own creative sweep. Her career has so far has covered blues, rock, pop and has seen her excel as an interpretive singer, which in turn has led her to Americana. She’s an unfettered creative force who channels her natural abilities and emotional pull into songs that bring out the best in her.
Her stellar phrasing and precise diction wrings every last nuance from a series of narratives that includes the infectious ‘whoo’ of ‘Blood In The Water’ and the plaintive ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’.
She’s also learnt to attack a song and emphasize feel and lyrical meaning, rather than just delivering bluster.
Fish leans into the groove of ‘Need You More’, as the band works toward what you imagine to be a defining solo, only to rise again with the peerless rhythm section towards a more relaxed jammed outro.
It’s a good barometer of the essential Mississippi influence that gives the album it’s after hours feel.
The title track is a bold choice, being a commercially friendly, country tinged cover which fits perfectly at the heart of a roots album that refuses to pander to labels.
She ultimately contents herself with a backing vocal ‘call and response’ role on R.L. Burnside’s ‘Poor Black Mattie’, a banjo and harp driven, gospel style piece that features Lightnin’ Malcolm on lead vocal.
There’s further contrast too, with the close to the mic acoustic ‘No Angels’, which is like a cross between Emmylou Harris and Stevie Nicks voiced over Little Mae’s sonorous violin and some sweetly picked guitar.
Above all, it’s Samantha Fish’s attention to detail that facilitates the perfect fusion of intuitive musicianship with organic arrangements that never lose sight of the bigger picture. And it’s the overall shape and feel of the album that brings fresh impetus to a backwoods genre.
The big question remains, will this be a pit-stop along the way to new musical pastures? Whatever the answer, ‘Belle Of The West’ is another string to Samantha Fish’s musical bow and you suspect there’s plenty more to come. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
Samantha Fish UK Tour Dates
Milton Keynes, The Stables – Monday 20 November
Bristol, The Tunnels – Tuesday 21 November
Bilston, Robin 2 – Wednesday 22 November
Southampton, The Brook – Thursday 23 November
London, Borderline – Friday 24 November
Derby, The Flowerpot - Saturday 25 November
Keighley Blues Live – Sunday 26 November
Edinburgh, Stramash Monday 27 November
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