Amanda Fish – Free
VizzTone Label Group VT-FF02
12 songs – 57 minutes
Kansas City-based songbird Amanda Fish has taken a little longer than her little sister Samantha, but this CD should go a long way in convincing listeners that the Sean Costello Rising Star trophy she picked up at the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards was no fluke.
Growing up in a home where they were inundated by the sounds of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones and more, both girls locked themselves in their room to practice their chops, Sam as a guitarist and Amanda as a singer.
The reigning Blues Music Association contemporary female artist of the year, Samantha broke through first in 2012. A fiery blues-rocker, she’s spread her wings in different areas in the years that have following, including recent releases that have delved into both the throwback sound of an old-school vocalist and, most recently, into folk- and country-flavored blues rock.
Amanda, meanwhile, has taken a different approach entirely. Her first performances as a music professional came as a solo singer-songwriter, and started about the same time Sam was in the studio recording her first CD. A lady with a powerful set of pipes that are both stronger and deeper than her sis, she formed her first band in 2014, singing from the gut as she delivered her own version of roots rock with heavy soul overtones.
Her first album, Down In The Dirt, was released on VizzTone Label Group in 2015 and led to the Blues Blast award. She followed that up with an appearance at the 2017 International Blues Challenge, where she and her bandmates made it to the semi-finals.
All 12 songs on this album, the second in her catalog, are originals penned by Amanda, one with an assist from David Stice-Stephenson and another from Sean McDonnell and Adam Watson. While primarily blues-rock based, they also include wide-ranging outside influences, including the music of Hill Country legend R.L. Burnside and grunge rockers Nirvana. And most deal with achieving victory in situations that are beyond the singer’s control.
Three of Fish’s VizzTone label mates — guitarists Bob Margolin and Tyler Morris and harmonica ace Richard Rosenblatt — and West Coast string-bender Alastair Greene all make guest appearances. The revolving cast of sidemen includes guitarists Dave Hays, Lois Nadal, Coyote Bill, Carl Butler and Ken Valdez and keyboard player Chris Hazelton with Glen James on percussion throughout. Amanda contributes guitar, bass, mandolin and piano on multiple cuts, and Sara Morgan provides additional vocals.
Despite the all-star lineup, however, the star here is definitely Amanda. Like the match she holds in the cover photo, she lights the fuse vocally and confidently explodes out of the box with “2020.” A seering blues-rocker, it apparently offers up hope for the disenchanted masses for the next Presidential election, although there’s no political mention in the lyrics other the statement that “you’re not the one we wanted/You’re not the one we need. Be careful what you wish for/Because there ain’t nothing in this world for free.”
“Not Again” is a hard-driving, uptempo Hill Country-flavored pleaser that features Rosenblatt in his sole appearance before the pace slows for the ballad, “Anymore,” which announces a permanent separation from a former lover. “The Ballad Of Lonesome Cowboy Bill” pairs New England-based youngblood Morris and former Muddy Waters bandmate Margolin in a roots-rocker that features Morgan on vocals and Fish on acoustic guitar, mandolin and piano.
The slow-paced “Blessed” features Valdez on guitar as Amanda reflects about the path she’s chosen as she studies the footprints she’s left in the sand, while Greene powers the rocker “Going Down” with Fish powerfully pleading vocally for relief. It comes in the form of the ballad “You Could Be,” which follows and builds intensity as it progresses.
“Bullet,” another blues-rocker, precedes the steady-driving relationship tune, “Here We Are,” before the tempo slows for “Don’t Mean A Thing” and “The Bored And Lonely,” which carry the theme forward, and the bittersweet title cut, “Free,” which starts as a ballad, erupts into a gospel-tinged rocker and brings the disc to a close.
A rock-solid effort from a lady with a bright future. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.