An evening of Explosive Alternative Blues featuring Blues Music Award winning Samantha Fish & legendary singer, guitarist and Austin Music Hall of Famer Jesse Dayton. Samantha and Jesse  will share the stage ripping through their vast catalogs as well as music by The Clash,  Townes Van Zandt, Magic Sam, and new originals songs inspired by this event. Don’t miss this chance to get a sneak peek into their new record scheduled for release in late spring.

 

“That was my mission on this album: To really set these songs up so that they have a life of their own,” says Samantha Fish about Kill or Be Kind, her sixth solo album and her debut on Rounder Records. “Strong messages from the heart – that’s what I really set out for.” Indeed, what comes across immediately on hearing the album is the extraordinary level of songcraft on its eleven tracks, the way these songs are so smartly put together to deliver a potent emotional impact.

Anyone who has ever heard Fish’s previous albums knows that she has earned a place in the top rank of contemporary blues guitarists and that her voice can wring the soul out of a ballad and belt out a rocker with roof-shaking force. And, rest reassured, those virtues are fully in evidence on Kill or Be Kind. But each of the songs on the album does far more than simply provide a setting for Fish’s pyrotechnics. They tell captivating stories, set up by verses that deftly set the scene, choruses that lift with real feeling, and hooks that later rise up in your thoughts, even when you’re not aware that you’re thinking of music at all. It’s the kind of songwriting that emerges when raw talent is leavened by experience and aspiration, and when a committed artist genuinely has something to say. Those qualities make Kill or Be Kind a genuine artistic breakthrough for Fish.

“I think I’ve grown as a performer and as a player,” she explains. “I’ve become more respectful of the melody. You can go up and down the fret board and up and down your vocal register, but that’s not going to be as powerful as conveying a simple melody that people can really connect to and sing themselves.” To help bring those elements to her music, Fish sought out high-quality songwriting collaborators – the likes of Jim McCormick (who has worked with Fish before and also written for Luke Bryan and Keith Urban); Kate Pearlman (who has worked with Kelly Clarkson); Patrick Sweeney; Parker Millsap; and Eric McFadden. The result is an album on which each song is distinct, but the complete work hangs together as a coherent, entirely satisfying statement. “When you get to this point in your life as an artist,” Fish says, “it’s good to work with others, because it makes you stretch. I think you hear a lot of that nuance on the record, songs that have a pop sensibility to them, hooks that really pull you in.”

You get a good sense of the range the album covers from the first two songs released. Fish propels “Watch It Die” with an insistent guitar riff, but near the song’s end two female background singers lend the song a haunting soulful feel. Meanwhile, “Love Letters” moves on an insinuating, stop-time riff in its verses until it bursts in passion on its chorus. Both songs use horn sections for finesse and texture. “Love Letters” also introduces one of the album’s central themes: the allure of losing yourself in love – and the dangers of it.  “Keep waking up in the bed I made,” Fish sings. “Forget the pain when you wanna play/I’m back to broken when you go away.”

“That’s just a love-sick song,” Fish says, laughing. “like I think I was when I wrote it.” The title track, a seductive ballad, offers a lover a stark choice: “Make up your mind/I can kill or be kind.” To explain that dichotomy, Fish says, “It’s funny how love can be so fickle, how quickly you go from object of affection to one of disdain. I’ve always found that dynamic interesting. That track is full of that duality,” she adds, laughing. “I also loved the Memphis sound of the horns on there. They sound modern, but it’s got this vintage feeling as well.” The songs “Dirty,” “Love Your Lies” and “Fair-Weather” explore similar themes – how deceit, self-deception and shifting expectations can alter the course of life and love. The affecting ballad “Dream Girl” stands the endearment of its title on its head and explores the dilemma of a love not coming to fruition. “I wish you’d take the rest of me,” Fish sings. “These tears, they kill your fantasy.” On “She Don’t Live Around Here Anymore,” a soul ballad once again bolstered by tasteful horn parts, the singer confronts the feeling of being used and finds empowerment in walking away.  

The album is framed by songs — “Bulletproof” and “You Got It Bad (Better Than You Ever Had).” “Bulletproof digs into the theme of vulnerability, about it being mistaken for weakness, and how we often times feel the need to wear a mask to survive in the world today, while “You Got It Bad (Better Than You Ever Had)” is about working towards your dreams and the knifes edge we often walk to reach our goals.

“Trying Not to Fall in Love With You” finds the singer not wanting to rush a relationship – and therefore undermine it. “I fall fast,” Fish admits, “I have to remember to take care and not scare the person away.”

To make Kill or Be Kind, Fish chose to work at the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis, with Scott Billington as producer. “I worked at Royal before, when I made my Wild Heart album,” she says. “The soul in the walls, the vibe – you can feel it in that place. I’m such a fan of Al Green, Ann Peebles and all the classic recordings that happened there. Memphis just kept calling to me. I’ve always felt so inspired there.” As for Billington, a three-time Grammy winner, Fish appreciated both his open-mindedness and his willingness to ease her out of her comfort zone. “Scott allowed me to see the building-out process of the album all the way through, from the top to the bottom,” she says. “Bringing in background singers and synthesizers, which I’d never done on an album before, that added an extra edge. Honestly, it was a challenge. It pushed me to think about the songs differently. That trust from my producer gave me the freedom to really take some risks.”

Having completed an album that she believes in so strongly – “This is me coming through, my personality,” she says – Fish is eager to bring it to the world. “I got the moon in the back of my mind, and I want to shoot for it!” she declares. “I want to reach over genre lines and get out to as many people as possible. This album is so broad – and it’s all me. So I’m just hoping it catches people and appeals to them.”

She concludes, “Overall my big goal, career-wise, is to contribute something different and new to music. I want to give something that stands apart and yet is timeless.” With Kill or Be Kind, Samantha Fish is well on her way along that path. – Anthony DeCurtis

“You should always get outside of the box,” Samantha Fish says while discussing her boundary-breaking new album Belle of the West. “Challenging yourself is how you grow.”

 

After launching her recording career in 2009, Samantha Fish quickly established herself as a rising star in the contemporary blues world.  Since then, the charismatic young singer-guitarist-songwriter has earned a reputation as a rising guitar hero and powerful live performer, while releasing a series of acclaimed albums that have shown her restless creative spirit consistently taking her in new and exciting musical directions.

The New York Times called Fish “an impressive blues guitarist who sings with sweet power” and “one of the genre’s most promising young talents.”  Her hometown paper The Kansas City Star noted, “Samantha Fish has kicked down the door of the patriarchal blues club” and observed that the young artist “displays more imagination and creativity than some blues veterans exhibit over the course of their careers.”

Having already made it clear that she’s more interested in following her heart than she is in repeating past triumphs, Samantha Fish delivers some of her most compelling music to date with Belle of the West, her fifth studio album.  The deeply soulful, personally charged 11-song set showcases Fish’s sublime acoustic guitar skills as well as her rootsy, emotionally resonant songwriting.

Such memorable new originals as “American Dream,” “Blood in the Water,” “Need You More” and “Don’t Say You Love Me” demonstrate the artist’s knack for organic Americana songcraft, while a trio of cover tunes—R.L. Burnside’s “Poor Black Mattie,” Lillie Mae’s “Nearing Home” and the Jimbo Mathus-penned title track—attest to her substantial interpretive skills as well as her varied musical interests.

“To me, this is a natural progression,” Fish notes. “It’s a storytelling record by a girl who grew up in the Midwest.  It’s very personal.  I really focused on the songwriting and vocals, the melodies and emotion, and on bringing another dimension to what I do.  I wasn’t interested in shredding on guitar, although we ended up with a few heavier tracks.  I love Mississippi blues; there’s something very soulful and very real about that style of music, so this was a chance to immerse myself in that.”

Fish recorded Belle of the West in the relaxed, rural creative atmosphere of the legendary Zebra Ranch Studios in the North Hills of Mississippi with producer Luther Dickinson (of North Mississippi Allstars fame), with whom she worked previously on her 2015 album Wild Heart.  The studio team included some of the region’s most iconoclastic musicians, including Dickinson, solo artist and Jack White associate Lillie Mae (whose distinctive vocals are featured on “Nearing Home”), much-traveled juke- joint blues artist Lightnin’ Malcolm (whose featured on “Poor Black Mattie”), Squirrel Nut Zippers founder Jimbo Mathus, upright bassist and beloved solo artist Amy LaVere, Tikyra Jackson, Trina Raimey and Shardé Thomas, granddaughter of the legendary Southern bluesman Otha Turner.

“I wanted to do this acoustic-electric record, and tap into the style and swagger of Mississippi,” Fish states, adding, “Any time you dive into another place, another vibe and a new group of people, you’re challenging yourself to grow musically.  I felt very at home a Zebra Ranch, and I’ve known Luther and Malcolm for years, so it was a very comfortable situation.  When you’re making a record like this, it has to feel natural if you want people to respond to it.

Belle of the West follows on the heels of Fish’s March 2017 release Chills & Fever, which achieved top 10 status in the Billboard Blues charts. Here she expanded her stylistic arsenal to take on a set of lesser-known vintage R&B gems, with help from members of garage-soul stalwarts the Detroit Cobras. “Having these two very different records come out back to back this year has been really liberating,” says Samantha.

The creative drive that fuels Belle of the West and Chills & Fever has been a crucial element of Samantha Fish’s approach from the beginning.  Growing up in a musical family in Kansas City, Missouri, she became obsessed with music early life, taking up drums before switching to guitar at the age of 15. By the time she was 20, she had formed her own trio and self-released her first album.  She soon caught the ear of the renowned blues label Ruf Records, which in 2011 released Girls with Guitars, which teamed her with fellow axewomen Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde.  The same year saw Ruf release Fish’s solo studio debut Runaway.  The album was named Best Artist Debut at the 2012 Blues Music Awards in Memphis.

Black Wind Howlin’ (2013) and Wild Heart (2015) followed, winning considerable critical acclaim and further establishing Fish as a prominent presence in the blues community.  Wild Heart reached the top slot on Billboard’s blues chart.  She also collaborated with blues-rock veterans Jimmy Hall and Reese Wynans on the 2013 project The Healers.  The same year, she jammed onstage with blues icon Buddy Guy, and guested on Devon Allman’s album Turquoise.

Fish continues to maintain the same hardworking, prolific approach that’s carried her this far.  “I think I’ve always had that,” she says.  “Music is my life, so what other choice do I have but to go out and make music?  We do tour quite a bit, and maybe it’s kind of crazy to put out two dramatically different albums in one year.  But I like to work hard.  This is who I am and this is what I do, and when I’m writing and recording and touring is when I feel the most like myself.  And now we have a moment where people are paying attention, so I have to make the most of it.  I feel like I have a lot to say right now, so why not say it?”

As far as Samantha Fish is concerned, her musical future is an open road.  “I’m never gonna be a traditional blues artist, because that’s not who I am,” she asserts.  “But it’s all the blues for me.  When Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf came out, what they were doing didn’t sound like anything that had been done in blues before.  You’ve gotta keep that kind of fire and spirit.  I’m never gonna do Muddy Waters better than Muddy Waters, so I have to be who I am and find my best voice.