Rounder [Release date 20.09.19]
There’s no denying the natural vivacity, or the cigar box guitar driven grooves and songcraft of Samantha Fish. Since bursting on the rock-blues scene a decade ago, she’s cut 6 solo albums of which the last 2 could be termed groundbreaking, as well as 2 Blues Caravan albums.
‘Kill Or Be Kind’ is her best album so far. It’s a detailed exposition of her songcraft. It heads for the middle ground, but does so with an unfettered cross-genre approach that serves her broad based song-writing style so well.
Then there’s her voice, a fragile nasal timbre that alternatively swoops, hollers, whispers and lays on honey sweep sultry phrasing. She’s smart enough to alter her pitch to explore contrast, most notably on the riff driven opener ‘Bulletproof’. The Mississippi Hill country blues influenced piece is built on a repetitive hypnotic riff, cool dynamics and a rough hewn slide solo and is a good example of her unique roots-rock style.
She cleverly alters her phrasing length and timbre on the pulsating electronica of ‘Watch Me Die’ and confidently extends her range on ‘You Got It Bad’, while honing her style by moulding her lyrics to subtle melodies, grooves and riffs.
It all makes for a rich musical fabric that takes us on an unhurried musical journey that reveals more with each repeated play.
She’s a contemporary artist with her own musical vision, and has the requisite musical chops and songcraft to forge her own path. She’s an artist who simply refuses to be labelled as that would stifle her creativity.
The result is a contemporary roots album dripping with Memphis soul (the very place of its recording), with hints of Americana, plenty of melodic strength and good hooks, but with enough musical diversity and subject matter to give the album its focus.
It’s all framed by a production which consistently places the emphasis on her voice to capture the moment. It all makes for subtle musical textures interwoven with instrumental colour that gives the album its extra layer of depth.
From the riff driven ‘Bulletproof’ through to the country pop, funky groove and catchy hook of the title track, to the atmospheric ‘Dream Girl, she offers something for everybody.
The album title’s duality goes a long way to explain an eclectic psyche at the heart of an album rooted in relationships songs and observational lyrics. There are moments of contrasting introspection, irony, and the occasional spiky song such as Dirty: “How can you sleep at night by her side, while I’m on your mind.”
Best of all is the single ‘Love Letters’, with its sludgy tempo, sultry-into-sensual phrasing and fazed electronica, on which the music cleverly evokes the atmospheric lyrics, broken only by a crunching buzz toned solo that leads back to the hook
Both ‘Love Letters’ and ‘Dream Girl’ – the latter is a gently pulsing ballad predicated on a gentle organ line – are good examples of her definitive songcraft, in which she immerses herself in the imagery, feel and the mood of a piece.
A delicate opening descending keyboard line ushers us into the beautiful ‘Farewell My Fair Weather’, which benefits from a clarity of diction, a sumptuous hook, some languid slide, and as on much of the album nuanced horns.
The tracks subtly flow on the back of some thoughtful sequencing and everything comes back to her voice which ultimately gives the album its unique flavour.
At her best, Samantha Fish draws us into her vivid narratives. Her phrasing is flexible enough to illuminate a wide variety of styles within the modern r&b genre. There’s the funky pop of ‘Try Not To Fall In Love With You’, which has a Mike Zito feel to it, while on the soulful ‘She Don’t Live Here Anymore’, the significant horn arrangement acts as a foil for her vocal.
Ultimately, ‘Kill Or Be Kind’ has an essential pop sensibility shot through with layers of Memphis Soul, blues, Americana, country, r&b and even rockabilly influences to offer wide appeal.
Her slow burning songs come with deeply wrought rhythms, intricate guitar work and smouldering arrangements to lodge in the memory and demand repeated listening.
‘Kill Or Be Kind’ is a mature slice of contemporary roots music that demands your patience but offers rich reward. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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