Some artists, like AC/DC, specialise in familiarity. Others, like Kate Bush, Bjork, and now Samantha Fish, specialise in surprise. The singer-songwriter-guitarist has been looking beyond her blues base to incorporate elements like Americana, ‘50s rock ‘n roll, vintage R&B, and retro soul into her sound. At this point in her career, all that’s guaranteed are her powerful vocals, expressive guitar playing, and emotional authenticity.
“You should always get outside of the box,” she explains. “Challenging yourself is how you grow.”
As if to prove her point, this year the Kansas City native’s released not just Chills & Fever (reinterpreting ‘60s and ‘70s rhythm and blues) but Belle Of The West (a collection of originals and some covers that tap into “the style and swagger of Mississippi”).
Both LPs, and the spirit that went into creating them, are well represented at Fish’s sold-out Borderline show. Joined by a five-piece band, anchored by drummer Kenny Tudrick and bass player Chris Alexander, she swings through the feelgood He Did It, before turning sultry and seductive on the brassy Chills & Fever, and laying down the law (as well as a towering vocal finale) on an impassioned You Can’t Go.
Blood In The Water adds a haunting classic country flavour to the blues-soul gumbo, while the playful Little Baby is unadulterated honky tonk bliss. Highway’s Holding Me Down, the only representative from 2015’s Wild Heart LP, is all big guitar chords and belting vocals, while Either Way I Lose has Fish channeling her inner Nina Simone as saxophonist Travis Blotsky and trumpet player Mark Levron soundtrack the heartache.
The quiet soul ballad culminates in a lightning guitar solo and full band workout that sets the tone for the dueling between Fish’s guitar and Phil Breen’s keyboards at the heart of a fevered Somebody’s Always Trying.
Need You More, performed solo on an acoustic guitar, is the perfect comedown and lead-in to the smooth as caramel Hello Stranger. The sashaying Don’t Say You Love Me turns up the heat, before the swampy It’s Your Voodoo Workin’ further raises the temperature to New Orleans levels.
A sensitive horn- and organ-led rendition of 1967 Betty Harris’ Nearer To You briefly changes the mood, until a low down ‘n dirty take on blues standard Crow Jane, transforms Borderline into a dusty Texas town. As Fish launches into its solo on an oil can guitar, she finally shows her hand: what unites her diverse catalogue is an always surprising, risk-taking approach to all forms of American roots music.