Ruf Records RUF 1241
14 songs – 55 minutes
Kansas City-based singer/guitarist Samantha Fish has covered a world of territory since capturing the 2012 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist. She emerged as a hard-hitting blues-rocker for two albums, then transitioned closer to mainstream blues her 2015 release produced by Hill Country superstar Luther Dickinson. She pursues a completely different path on Chills & Fever.
Previous albums served as a showcase for her guitar pyrotechnics and songwriting skills, both of which take a back seat here. Samantha has matured dramatically since Wild Heart, which contained 10 originals and plenty of over-the-top fret work. Now in her late 20s, one glance at her new look on his cover and one listen to the music contained within will tell you that she’s ripened into a vocalist who doesn’t need a six-string to get across her message.
This is Fish’s fifth release on German-based Ruf Records. In the past, Samantha’s voice was all high-intensity, sometimes on the verge of shrill. Here, she proves to be a gifted singer with plenty control as she delivers an album of carefully chosen, often obscure, covers.
Recorded at The 45 Factory in Detroit and produced by Bobby Harlow, best known as front man with The Go, the rock band that once included Jack White prior to his founding the White Stripes. Joining Fish in the studio are members of the Detroit Cobras, another long-lasting band of rockers. Samantha plays lead guitar throughout, aided by Joe Mazzola on rhythm, Steve Nawara on bass and Kenny Tudrick on drums. They’re augmented by Motown’s Bob Mervak on electric piano and a New Orleans-based horn section consisting of Mark Levron on trumpet and Travis Blotsky on sax. Several of them have joined Fish on her current tour.
Despite the seemingly hard-edge foundation, the overall sound created blends Memphis and Northern soul, British pop and more into a package that’s remains fresh despite the age of the material it presents. The disc opens with a brief guitar solo for a solid rendition of “He Did It,” a hit for Jackie DeShannon in the ’60s with Fish in perfect control as she jumps aurally between notes. Her delivery of the title tune, Tom Jones’ “Chills & Fever,” is sweet and funky, delivered atop a staccato beat.
Fish would have Barbara Lewis nodding in approval with her faithful, mid-tempo version of “Hello Stranger,” which is faithful to its bossa nova beat, before a cover of swamp blues legend Charles Sheffield’s biggest hit, “It’s Your Voodoo Working.” Next up, Samantha covers “Hurt’s All Gone,” a ballad written by her backing musicians in their Cobras iteration.
A modern treatment of Indiana-based Lonnie Lester’s “You Can’t Go,” a Northern soul hit in the ’60s, follows before Fish joins Gladys Knight and Nina Simone in covering Van McCoy’s “Either Way I Lose,” which is delivered. Her vocals shine, and her single-note guitar solo fits perfectly. The poignant “Never Gonna Cry” carries the message forward before “Little Baby,” an uptempo rocker first laid down by Britain’s The Bristols.
Samantha’s deliberate interpretation of Allen Toussaint’s “Nearer To You” takes you to church with a gospel feel before a funky take on Betty LaVette’s “You’ll Never Change.” The only true blues cover in the set, the Skip James classic “Crow Jane,” follows with Fish ripping and running on the fret board before Ted Taylor’s “Somebody’s Always Trying” and Lulu’s “I’ll Come Running Over” bring the set to a close.
Make no mistake about it: This is Samantha Fish soulfully singing her heart out like never before. You’ll get Chills & Fever listening to this one.