Album Reviews

Samantha Fish

Chills & Fever

Artist:     Samantha Fish

Album:     Chills & Fever

Label:     Ruf

Release Date:     03/17/2017

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She is amazing – so awesome – so commanding,” said Mike Zito in my December interview on these pages, describing his friend, Samantha Fish, whom he mentored early on. Now, I must admit that my respect for her, while maybe not yet at those laudatory levels, is increasing rapidly. This new record absolutely floors me. I respect an artist who takes a huge risk. She throws us a big curve ball and pulls it off with aplomb. While she’s been lumped into the category of “another girl with a guitar,” or “yet another blues-rocker,” this album will change those perceptions. Samantha hearkens back to the R&B/garage rock/Motown/early rock n’ roll sound of Detroit on this record, playing with members of the Detroit Cobras and Jack White’s first band, Go, as well as a two piece New Orleans horn section. Producer Bobby Harlow is from Go.

Fish’s vocals have been getting stronger. I thought that her last album, Wild Heart, produced by Luther Dickinson, with more rootsy material, had been her best vocal performance by far, then I heard her sing here. “I grew up on it {raw, scrappy rock n’ roll}, says Fish, “Working with Luther on my last album further instilled that spirit in me. It made me realize just how much that basic, unfiltered sound means to me and how well it ties into soul music, R&B, country, and so many other forms of music that are essential even today.” Samantha covers songs from the ’60s and ’70s – tunes, though not necessarily big hits from iconic writers like Jackie DeShannon, Jerry Ragavoy, Bert Berns, Allen Toussaint, and Nina Simone. “I listened to a lot of soul music, and I dug deep into people like Otis Redding and Ray Charles,” says Fish. “I was also influenced by people like North Mississippi’s R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. It’s a less restrained style of music than the sound people may be used to hearing from me, it’s definitely a different facet of my personality.”

Different indeed—she proves that this kind of music defies that generic term, “oldies.” Fish is brimming with joy over the results, “I don’t think I ever enjoyed making a record quite as much as I enjoyed making this one. I love the sound of the brass and the edgier intensity. Channeling timeless artists who sang like their lives depended on it. To me, that’s what this music is all about.”

While you’ll still hear the blues in Fish’s guitar solos, which are very economical here compared to past efforts, it’s the vocal aspects that draw the listener in. She covers torchy tunes performed by Betty Harris (“Nearer to You”), and classics like Nina Simone’s “Either Way I Lose,” Ronnie love’s one hit classic, the title track, “Chills & Fever;” and Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger” with its indelible “seems like a mighty long time,” among others. Her best vocal is on the Willie Schofield/Robert West penned “You’ll Never Change,” a ballad also covered by the Detroit Cobras. The two writers also penned the 1962 Wilson Pickett & the Falcons hit, “I Found a Love.”

Fish attributes the rocking rhythm and blues sound not only to Harlow and the horns, but to rhythm guitarist Joe Mazzola of the Detroit Cobras. The guitar driven blues songs are here too, represented by “Crow Jane,” “He Did It,” “You Can’t Go” and “Somebody’s Always Trying.” Yet, it’s the Detroit sound of the vintage R&B that makes the album so compelling.

The good news is that Fish will be touring with a similar band, sans Mazzola, but including the horn players. Check out her entire schedule and especially these: April 12th, Sellersville Theater, Sellersville, PA and April 14th, Highline Ballroom, NYC. It will be interesting to hear how well her new sound translates in live performance.

—Jim Hynes

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