Belle Of The West
Samantha Fish has become
one of the most creative, innovative young blues
artists on the scene today. Not content with
sticking with what has worked for her on
previous albums, she's constantly reaching
outside her comfort zone to stretch the
boundaries of the blues genre. She's already
done it twice this year, with the earlier
release, Chills & Fever, working in the
brassy sounds of '60s pop and rock 'n' roll
along with a solid blues sound.
Belle Of The West (Ruf Records) takes Ms. Fish in
a completely different direction. Like, real different. She headed to
Mississippi, teamed up with producer Luther Dickinson (of North
Mississippi All-Stars fame), and has come out with an outstanding
collection of tunes with heavy elements of primal Mississippi Hill
Country blues. Yeah, I'm betting that's not what you were expecting from
the album title and the way she's dressed in the cover photo.
It doesn't take long into the first cut to figure out
where Ms. Fish is going with Belle Of The West. Right away we
hear the fife and drum accompaniment associated with the early blues of
the Hill Country, with Tikyra Jackson on drums, Lillie Mae on violin and
Sharde Thomas on the fife. It's earthy primitive blues, and oh so cool.
"Blood In The Water" is haunting, especially the backing vocals and more
of that fife/violin combo, containing plenty of gospel overtones. Ms.
Fish comes in with snaky guitar and foreboding vocals, like a soul
that's worn out. The backing vocals contribute to the ominous feel on
Lillie Mae's violin takes us into the country-ish "Need
You More," and once again Ms. Fish shows us the versatility of her voice
as it sounds like this one could be on a jukebox in a Texas roadhouse.
Her voice isn't quite sultry, but close, as she tells her man how much
she needs him .... more than he'll ever know. The violin accompaniment
here sent me a Google search to find out more about this musician known
as Lillie Mae, and I now know that her full name is Lillie Mae Rische,
she's played with Jack White, and now has her own album on Third Man
Another cut with an ominous, eery sound is "Daughters,"
with Ms. Fish's vocals complemented by her own slide guitar playing and
a heavy New Orleans-style drum beat. The same foreboding tone
comes across on "Don't Say You Love Me," but this time Ms. Fish's vocals
are a bit more powerful, and Lillie Mae is back with tasteful violin
The first cover of the album is the title cut, written
by James Mathus, and this one's a country-ish number on which Ms. Fish
sounds very similar to Lucinda Williams. Lillie Mae is back to add
violin and producer Dickinson chips in some subtle mandolin picking. The
next cover, R.L. Burnside's "Poor Black Mattie," plants us firmly back
in the Hill Country, with Lightnin' Malcolm joining on harmonica and
"call and response" vocals. With some really good polyrhythmic drumming,
it's got the raw, stripped-down urgency you'd expect from a Burnside
The third cover song on the album is the Lillie Mae
original "Nearing Home." It's a subtle country ballad that gives Ms.
Fish a chance to excel on vocals, with harmony vocals and violin backing
from the impressive Ms. Rische. Ms. Fish wraps up the album by playing
some mean country blues slide guitar and spouting off sassy vocals on
the uptempo "Gone For Good," on which she celebrates the fact that the
man who was bad for her is out the door.
With Belle Of The West, Samantha Fish has created
two of the best blues albums of the year. She's certainly on a hot
streak, and I can't wait to hear what she's got in store for us in 2018.