Ruf Records RUF 1213
12 songs – 53 minutes
Long-legged head-turner Samantha Fish was barely out of her teens when she exploded out of the gates to win Best New Artist honors at the 2012 Blues Music Awards with her intense, pyrotechnic take on blues-rock, but she’s turning heads for another reason with the release of Wild Heart.
A Kansas City native from a musical family, the guitarist/vocalist is rapidly maturing into a blues superstar, and it’s clearly evident in this disc, which is a major departure from the first two highly received CDs in her catalog. While powerful examples of high-intensity guitar slinging fans have grown to love are still present, she mixes in a strong dose of Hill Country blues on this go-round, and the end product is head-and-shoulders her best.
Now in her mid-20s, Samantha developed an interest in Hill Country early through the music of R.L. Burnside, although much of the music she produced until now had the feel of more diverse influences, including Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Her earlier releases, Runaway and Black Wind Howlin’, were produced by friend and sometimes touring partner Mike Zito and kept her in a comfort zone.
Zito’s work in the control room was exceptional. This time, however, Luther Dickinson, a driving force behind the North Mississippi Allstars and Black Crowes, took command and the sound and feel are completely different. Recorded at four sites across the South, including Memphis’ legendary Ardent and Royal Studios, the disc includes 10 Fish originals, half of which were written in collaboration with Jim McCormick, a Nashville veteran whose work has been covered by Keith Urban and Trisha Yearwood, among others. She’s backed by a superstar lineup that includes Dickinson on lap steel, bass, mandolin, rhythm and lead guitars and Grammy-winner Brady Blake and Sharde Thomas on drums. Lightin’ Malcolm makes a guest appearance on guitar, Shontelle Norman-Beatty and Risse Norman provide backing vocals, and Dominic Davis adds bass on one cut.
The self-penned “Road Runner” kicks off the disc with a sound and feel that would be comfortable in any back country juke. It delivers a warning that the man of the title can’t be trusted and that “he’ll run all over you.” Samantha’s guitar lead is as fiery as the flames streaming from her long dress in the artwork on the inside cover, and she’s in total control. The pace drops off dramatically for “Place To Fall,” a slow blues that speaks of searching for a lost love.
“Blame It On The Moon” is a blues-rocker with a slight country feel that credits the celestial body with every wrong the singer does in life, while “Highway’s Holding Me Now” is an interesting love song that plays off the need to be on the road against the need for romance. While connected in title,“Go Home” is a ballad that speaks of a desire to return to a place where “Daddy was a drunk and your Mama ran away.” Samantha’s delivery is sweet and tender, putting on display considerable vocal qualities that usually take second place to her guitar playing.
“Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1,” written by first generation star Charley Patton, is delivered in a traditional manner and features Dickinson on mandolin before “Turn It Up,” an in-your-face blues-rocker about breaking free from the chains of short-sighted friends. “Show Me” is a slow shuffle that demands communication in a relationship so powerful that the singer “would burn with your ashes till we’re one and the same,” while “Lost Myself” is a slow-paced acoustic lament about a troubled love affair.
The cover tune, “Wild Heart,” a rapid shuffle, is a declaration of surrender and total devotion. “Bitch On The Run,” a song of female empowerment in a male-dominated world, follows before a cover of Junior Kimbrough’s Hill Country classic, “I’m In Love With You,” brings the album to conclusion.
Available everywhere, this album is so good, it’s earned an early spot on my list of the 10 best blues CDs of the year. Even if you’re already a Samantha Fish fan, you’ll be surprised at where Wild Heart takes you. Highly recommended.