Ever since I heard about Samantha Fish’s plans for her new Ruf Records release, Chills & Fever, I have been most eager to hear it. Aside from being a fan of her previous releases, I read that she was planning on exploring her love of earlier gritty rock and roll.
If the truth is told, I loved that same kind of music before I became a blues aficionado, and I couldn’t wait to see what Fish would do with the project.
Sometimes, the anticipation is better than the outcome, but in this case, Chills & Fever is a strong album from start to finish and I absolutely loved what she does. Teaming up with members of the Detroit Cobras, one of the hardest driving bands in the Midwest punk and blues scene, Fish has turned out 14 killer tracks that are sure to have you hitting the repeat button on your player.
That love for old-school rock and roll is evident within the first couple of notes of He Did It. The music is solid and the horn section punctuates the number. Then Fish takes a guitar break that soars. It’s a fun song with just enough anger and edge to make it a standout.
Fish follows up with the title track, Chills & Fever, a slower spooky number. Her voice still has an edge, but it’s softer and there’s a piano break that gives the song a different feel. It’s one of those songs that creates a strange mood and it works.
We’re a little deeper into soul music territory on Hello Stranger, a keyboard and horn driven number that sounds like some of the best of the ‘60’s. Fish’s voice purrs into the microphone. I love this song, but then, I’ve always been a sucker for that late night soul sound.
She gets back to rocking with It’s Your Voodoo Working, a song that has a solid backbone and with the deeper sax in the background, has a stranger sound than most. I love the mood the song creates. Listen for the guitar break to really push the song, and listen for Fish’s purrs and howls near the end of the song. Damn!
She slows down the tempo for the heartrending Hurt’s All Gone. This is one of those great songs of pain that just grabs you be the soul and doesn’t let go. The way the music builds, it underlines the lyrics nicely. Lovely song.
Fish puts on her rocking shoes for You Can’t Go, a raucous up-tempo soul rock number. This is a song with some serious attitude and the edge in her vocal is a perfect fit for it. There’s a line you don’t want to cross when she gets that tone in her voice!
Either Way I Lose creeps into life, and Fish’s vocals evoke those wonderful female singers of years gone by. She builds the song up from its quiet beginning and there is a great deal of power and regret in her approach. This is a great song.
She keeps things low and slow with the follow up, Never Gonna Cry, which is a beautiful soul number. Her love for the old Motown sound is evident in the way she approaches this number. Orchestrating the horns with the band provides a great canvas for her vocals. She’s found that way to tap into her love for this rock and soul sound and filter it through her blues experience to create a great sound.
Next up is a quick number, Little Baby, which has a sweet rhythm and blues horn section over a country sounding shuffle. I love the mix and the way Fish and the band change rhythms mid song. Her picking is straight out of Nashville and it really works here.
Fish is back with more soul on Nearer To You. This is a sweet song with a simple musical sound that allows her vocals to take the focus. On all of these songs, I can hear that she is having a lot of fun finding the original sounds and having her approach honor the songs, but not surrendering her own style in a slavish imitation. That’s often a fine line, but somehow, she manages to pull it off neatly.
There’s a hint of funk on You’ll Never Change, with the rhythm section laying down a solid groove and the horns adding spice. Her voice is ethereal on this number – sliding up above the music and dipping in and out of the song. It has a very cool effect on the listener.
The last song on the record is a rousing version of Crow Jane, with a Resonator guitar giving the song a swamp infused feel. The horns add a backbone and the drums are very prominent. It’s a pounding number and one that should get some serious attention along with significant airplay.
The next two songs are bonus tracks for the CD release. Somebody’s Always Trying is up first and this one is a wild party of a song. The music swings and Fish really pulls out all of her vocal stops. The band has a nice extended jam with some great guitar and keyboard work. This has a lot of spirit.
The CD closes with I’ll Come Running Over, a fun song that’s somewhat reminiscent of the riff the Blues Brothers employed to kick off Everybody Needs Somebody. That doesn’t last long and the song takes on its own life and ends the disc with a driving number that leaves everything on a high note.
You have to give Fish credit, she is always exploring the roots of the music she loves. She’s played strict blues, and explored more of blues rock, and now has delved into that great Motown sound. I’ve always been attracted to artists who keep changing their approach, exploring different avenues, and Fish has certainly done that.
I look for good things with this album. There may be a bit of a backlash from blues purists, although I doubt there will be much, the beautiful sounds that she’s created for Chills & Fever just might bring more fans to her work. And that’s a great bonus!
Find out more about Samantha Fish, her current and past projects and her touring plans at her website: http://www.samanthafish.com/