I’ve followed Samantha Fish since buying, unheard, her brilliant debut, Runaway. It was an impulse purchase based on very little information and one I have delighted in ever since. The album, with Mike Zito producing, was a powerful blues-rock album and I have been hooked ever since. (That unintentional pun will not happen again – she is, I’m sure, as tired of piscine ‘jokes’ as poor Walter Trout (who even released an album called Live; no more fish jokes.) Her subsequent albums revealed a talent of great depth, originality and a brave determination that she would not be labelled with one genre: those releases showed her maturing, experimenting and delivering sheer quality with every note. (After Runaway came Black Wind Howlin’, Wild Heart, Belle of the West, Chills and Fever, Kill or be Kind and not forgetting the Ruf Records live album, Girls With Guitars where she shared the stage with Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde…an annoying title, but a great album.)
News of this latest release, Faster, was therefore welcomed and a preorder placed (a silly word: it’s just an order prior to release. As the prefix ‘pre’ means before, how can you ‘before order’ something? I know, I’m a pedant.) It also brought annoyance as the US store has some wonderful ’bundles’ available but the UK only gets a limited art print option…I got that one; after all, although it will generate negative comments in some quarters, the cover defines the phrase “guitar lick”!
Then, as the release date approached, it brought a sense of trepidation, approaching dread; Samantha had recruited producer Martin Kierszenbaum (Lady Gaga, Sting), who co-wrote eight of the 12 new tunes on it…now call me blinkered but I know very little about Gaga apart from a rash(er) fashion choice and I am no fan of Sting…add to that the appearance of rapper/singer/songwriter Tech N9ne who I have never heard of (and thought his surname was Ngne at first, until I realised it was yoof speak for nine) and I have yet to hear a rap record I like. But, this is Samantha Fish; she is gorgeous, talented and plays a mean guitar and so I approached each track with an open, only slightly biased mind. I need not have worried: yes, there are some major pop influences that blur the lines of the jazz, soul, country and blues she has always mastered so effectively but somehow she has blended pop and (whisper) dance music without losing the bedrock of the blues…
as she explains,
“The whole record has a theme of taking charge and taking the reins, in a relationship or in life in general, I really thought that after 2020 I’d end up with a really dismal, bleak album, but instead, we came up with something that’s fun and sexy and so empowering.” and, on recording Faster, “There’s such a transformation that can happen in the studio when you really own that freedom to be creative.”
So, to the music and the first comment has to be the clarity of the production; it seems Mr Kierszenbaum has managed the impossible and dispelled my misgivings…he has given space for every note of every instrument so that, for an obsessive listener like me, I can isolate different aspects with every run-through. This crafted production is evident from the first notes of the first and title track: the guitar tones are lovely and, although the lyrical melody (and the oohs will have you joining in) is distinctly poppy, the essence of the song is bluesy rock and, after some reverse picked notes, a blissful solo…the video is great too although I’m hoping the car was on a trailer as it was filmed otherwise not paying due attention to the road could be levelled as could the Olivia Newton-John look!
The next track, All Ice No Whiskey is pure rock blended seamlessly with pop melodies and somehow becomes a beguiling, immediate and lovely track with neat guitar over an electronic backing. That blend works even better on the oh so clever Twisted Ambition…the hefty riff with a sing-along chorus and some stinging lead breaks leave you in no doubt that this is rock…or breeze blocks at least: watch the video to see what I mean.
Hypnotic moves left field with some weird percussion and electronic sounds from the keyboards backing a superb vocal performance…but then, after a couple of verses, one of the best rock lead guitar solos materialises and leaves us far too soon. OK, first listen left me horrified but after a few run-throughs, I came to appreciate that it is indeed hypnotic.
Forever Together is a ‘simple’ riff evoking proper R’n’B with neat piano interjections and another great poppy vocal, but no solo! Crowd Control is undoubtedly pop influences and, apart from the funny bongo emulation, still manages to draw you in and, for me, to concentrate on the subtle and very clever backing guitar she feeds through the fabric of the song; in fact, the latter part is like a guitar solo with backing singers…delicious.
Imaginary War starts off like Bandolier era Budgie before the catchy verse cuts in and it’s not Burke Shelley. Again, the playing behind it all is exquisite and the short solo so clever and original. Loud is a paradox: starting with quiet piano and gentle chords and a brilliant bass accompanying the vocals, then it hits a riff with Hammond…rock in every sense, before quiet again, then loud! Then, I’m afraid we get some extremely rapid rapping from Mr N9ne…that’s when I hit f-fwd until the gorgeous solo cuts in but runs into the fade…shame! Better Be Lonely soon cheers me back up: it’s a genius blues-based rock song given a pop sheen but it works extremely well and has one of those guitar riffs and vocal choruses that get into your brain and won’t let go, backed with a solo of sheer invention as it wanders through the melodies brilliantly…aural sex!
So-Called Lover is next and moves into surf punk territory but in a clever and subtle way and the lyrics are clever too and the solo would fit on a Ramones single! Confusing summary perhaps but rest assured it works.
The penultimate track is Like A Classic; a softer rock with more lovely vocals with a pop edge; a sharp edge. The backing is sparse but listen to the glistening chords behind it all…then a suitably chastened solo that is picked perfection without any unwelcome notes. The final track, All The Words, opens beautifully with gentle chords and emotion-packed vocals joined by matching piano and organ: a vehicle for her undervalued vocal prowess and therefore no guitar solo…although I’m sure one could have been squeezed in, but that’s just my bias.
In evaluating this new approach from Samantha, the best analogy I could come up with would be comparing Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny with the Roland drenched Turbo: different but both exceedingly good. Faster will have you reaching for new descriptions to explain how good this is…I failed, because saying Kate Bush and Blondie get the blues doesn’t quite distil the complexity.
One listen will not be enough; after immersing myself in this excellent album I only have three complaints: the solos are nowhere near long enough, the rap brings nothing to my sonic table (sorry Samantha, I’m old!) and not one of the songs breaks the five-minute barrier! (Oh, and I miss the Bulletproof cigar box.)
My inadequate summary: this is a departure but with a recognisable and desirable destination. Samantha has, once again, defied the genres and moulded them to her will in a fascinating, accessible and still blues rocky way…love it!
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a Wonderful album of hybridised blues-rock that works and works very well indeed with Samantha’s trademark guitar sound still preserved and her vocals stronger than ever…buy it and listen multiple times to appreciate the many and varied levels this ‘new direction’ reveals; then sit back and enjoy.
2. All Ice No Whiskey
3. Twisted Ambition
5. Forever Together
6. Crowd Control
7. Imaginary War
9. Better Be Lonely
10. So-Called Lover
11. Like A Classic
12. All The Words
Samantha Fish: guitars, vocals
Martin Kierszenbaum: guitar, keyboards, percussion
Josh Freese: drums
Diego Navaira: bass
Hannah Brier: backing vocals
(iTunes inevitably moved on to more wonderful stuff from Samantha before alighting on Bruce Dickinson’s pre Maiden band, Samson and the1982 single Riding with the Angels, and I still have the 7” picture disc…they deserved more recognition.)
“Faster” is out now on Rounder Records.