When I was a kid and first mastering the art of coloring, for some reason I could never keep the crayons in the lines where they were supposed to be. My green grass and blue skies ended up joining together and to me that seemed perfectly natural.
I have to wonder if Samantha Fish did the same thing. Earlier this year, she released an album, Chills & Fever, that delved more into gritty rock and roll and R&B than blues. It caught a number of her fans by surprise, but they gave it a chance and the album was a big hit with audiences and critics alike.
Now she has come back with a second album for the year, not an easy feat by any means, her latest effort on RUF Records, Belle Of The West, explores her more country and roots side. Will her audience embrace the effort? It’s too early to tell, but sales have been strong and she’s delivered enough blues material to whet the appetite of longtime fans while creating a new sound that will most likely deliver new fans to her camp.
It’s not out of the question for an artist to explore these new sounds, especially as Fish came out of the Kansas City music scene. Kansas City is a major crossroads artistically, and it would have been difficult for Fish, or any artist for that matter, to remain isolated against all those influences.
Belle Of The West starts off quietly with a drumstick countdown and acoustic guitar joined with a fife played by Sharde Thomas. American Dream signals a totally different approach for Fish who has been known for her hard rocking blues and her last album was a salute to gritty R&B – this one is indelibly stamped as an exploration of the country roots of the American sound.
Fish and company use some beautifully realized vocals to introduce the next track, Blood In The Water. It’s a darker edged song filled with mystery and Lillie Mae’s violin sets the mood. This is a great song and is layered nicely with each instrument dovetailed into the others. It’s finely crafted and is the kind of song that can lodge itself into the listener’s soul.
Need You More follows with some sweet country guitar and a touch of violin. It’s a song of longing for establishing contact with a loved one – both the joys and frustration of life on the road. Fish’s lyrics are poetic and she captures the traveling performer’s life succinctly. Her emotions are strong and she shows her vulnerable side.
The next song, Cowtown, picks up the tempo and tells the story of someone longing to catch the first thing smoking and get out of town. It’s a nice companion piece to the previous song about being tired from the road to capturing the dreams of someone who has hung around just a little too long.
Daughters follows with a slower, more deliberate pace and adds the next chapter to the previous song. The story picks up after the singer has left the Cowtown and moved on down the road. Fish’s vocals are very emotional and the almost marching beat of the drums propel the song forward in search of that American dream.
Fish’s next number, Don’t Say You Love Me, starts out low and slow with some strong attitude. This is one the blues fans will gravitate towards, but Fish isn’t going back all the way, just exploring a little blues fusion. It’s a very cool song and just demonstrates how well she can deliver a song from the heart.
The title track is next, Belle Of The West is the first song on the album not written by Fish. James Mathus penned the number, and it is about as country as fried catfish. Samantha Fish has a great voice and this song reminds me of the traditional country that I listened to when I was much younger. Fish obviously loves the music and delivers a sweet melancholy song here.
Poor Black Mattie features Lightnin’ Malcolm and is the strongest blues song so far. The percussion drives the song and the guitar adds the spice. Malcolm adds his vocals and (I assume) his harp to the mix. The blend is very satisfying and this is one that will be popping up on Time For The Blues.
The next track, No Angels, has a solid bluesy approach and is one that Fish’s longtime fans will enjoy. The song is gritty and manages to combine the blues with the roots sound she’s exploring on this album.
Nearing Home features violinist Lillie Mae who wrote the song and it is an uplifting sweet song with some beautiful harmony. This is one of my favorite numbers on the album and to me anyway, shows that Fish can operate in just about any genre.
The album closes with Gone For Good, and the song opens with a little studio camaraderie. Fish then swings into the number that delivers a very strong country roots song. It’s a good way to take the album out with some energy and leaves the listener wanting to hear more.
Samantha Fish has truly delivered a surprising album with Belle Of The West. Not content to make the same album over and over, she has listened to the siren call of the music and explored different genres twice this year. It will ultimately be up to her audience to see how many of her longtime fans will respond positively and how many of her newer ones will go back and search her catalog to discover what she’s already released.
Personally, I love an artist who is not afraid to stretch her boundaries into new areas. I believe that music doesn’t need to be confined to labels, and if you happen to find something that speaks to you, you should listen and genre labels be damned. Blues, country, Americana, roots, and good old rock and roll are all just variations on a theme, so to me, it’s only natural that a real artist would want to blur the distinctions between them and just make the music she wants to perform.
Check it out for yourself. If you want to see what Fish can do with country sounds, this is a great album. If you just want to hear her sing the blues, there are a few songs on here for you as well. Be sure to catch her live wherever you can – saw her earlier this year and she really rocked the joint! I can’t wait until she comes back around in the future.
More information can be found at her website: http://www.samanthafish.com/.