Album review: Samantha Fish goes to Hill Country for ‘Wild Heart’
At 17, singer-songwriter and guitarist Samantha Fish fell in love with the blues after attending the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Arkansas. Determined to devote her life to the storied musical tradition, Fish dug her heels into the Delta sand and, with a combination of grit, talent and hard work, had released two albums, toured the world, shared the stage with legendary gunslingers such as Tab Benoit and Buddy Guy and won the 2012 Best New Artist Debut by her mid-20s. Fish has proven she is a determined and fierce artist with potential in spades, and her newest release, “Wild Heart,” sees Fish take a couple more paces in the footsteps of her blues heroes.
She makes this much clear from the get-go, on the riveting scorcher “Road Runner.” An ex-lover has left Fish in the dust, “counting tears while the cigarettes burn.” But as the song roars along, climaxing in a vindictive solo from Fish, she turns the table from victim to the aggressor who will run over the men who dare stand in her way.
However the following track “Place To Fall,” sheds light on what becomes of the fiery woman after the adrenaline has finished pumping through her vengeful veins. “Lord I’m looking for a place to fall/ Nothing compares to the love we shared/ Once upon a time,” she sings in a heartbreaking, bluesy wail. The defiance of the first track starts to unravel in a pool of heartache as if Fish had started a night of drinking cussing her ex-lover and as the drinks began to flow, resorted to wanting his arms back around her.
The finest example of Fish’s honest songwriting is the introspective, acoustic lament “Go Home.” With beautiful, female backing vocals, Fish reflects on past experiences and tearfully wonders, “Maybe in a moment of clarity, I’ll do what’s right/ Maybe I’ll finally swallow a bit of my own advice/ Given too many nights to misery and crying eyes.” The blues are brutally honest and a line like that is as honest as a worn diary; Fish recognizes she can’t hide behind her own myth. Fish’s songwriting, in which she reveals her own vulnerabilities amidst her strengths, is what gives “Wild Heart” an emotional complexity not seen on many women her age.
In addition to her revealing songwriting, Fish is a compelling singer and guitarist who has been cut from the same cloth as Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt and, to a certain extent, Grace Potter. Her pearly snarl on “Highway’s Holding Me” pairs with her ragged guitar playing like a match to an oil canister. “Blame it on the Moon” takes a carefree jaunt through the Louisiana backwoods in a wistful blues-boogie that dips and swerves on her starry vocals and slide work. The song has an empowering lightness to it and sounds like a B-side to a Tedeschi Trucks Band album, certainly not bad musical company to be in.
Speaking of musical company, Fish surrounded herself with some of the finest in Hill Country blues for “Wild Heart”, including North Mississippi ambassador Luther Dickinson, guitarist Lightnin Malcolm and drummer Brady Blade, who played for Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan. Dickinson produced the album and time was spent at both Blade’s Louisiana studio and Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch in Mississippi recording tracks. Dickinson played on many of the tracks in one form or another of a stringed instrument and his penchant for putting the music first certainly attributes to Fish spreading her wings wide and full on “Wild Heart.”
The best product of Dickinson’s involvement with the album is the moving “Lost Myself.” In the six-minute confessional, Fish’s dynamic vocals swell with emotional weight as she tries to find herself back from a disorienting love, matched in intensity by Dickinson’s luminous lap steel and Blade’s crashing drums. Fish conjures up a lot of emotions on “Wild Heart” with her singing, playing and songwriting, but “Lost Myself” is the most potent concentration of all three of those elements.
“Wild Heart” is a vivid portrait of all of Fish’s talents and people should take notice of this blues musician on the rise.
Samantha Fish “Wild Heart”Release: July 10, 2015
Label: Ruf Records
Notable Tracks: “Go Home,” “Blame it on the Moon,” “Lost Myself”
ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.
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