Kansas City’s Samantha Fish’s latest album of deep American blooz rock was recently released during the week of July 4 (okay, the date was July 10—this is technically true) on the German-based label Ruf. Europeans have always appreciated American blues more than its native born—just ask the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc.—but one would hope a performer as charismatic and talented as Fish could at least find a big enough audience in the states to release her latest gutbucket of earthiness.
Wild Heart is Fish’s third studio release and shows her advanced progression as a writer and performer. The songs are tighter and more developed. Her playing increasingly filled with nastier licks that break off and cut. Her voice powerfully reaches for emotion before she letting her axe take over. Some of this may be due to Luther Dickinson’s production, which allows Fish expansive room to express herself. Dickinson also plays various stringed instruments on the disc, and employs notables such as Brady Blade on drums and Memphis session singers Shontelle Norman-Beatty and Risse Norman on backup vocals.
Fish recorded the album in Memphis, Tennessee, Shreveport, Louisiana and Hernando, Mississippi. The Memphis material offers a sense of urban isolation. Take Fish’s six-minute opus to giving up and starting over, “Go Home”. The track captures the misery of not having a home to go home to while not being able to stay where one is. The a-ha moment of doing what’s right is tempered by the fact that one has been done wrong for so long. It’s the American dream of the city as a shiny object when one is better off returning to one’s roots. But as Thomas Wolfe famously said, one can’t go home again, and one never really wants to anyway.
In contrast is Fish’s acoustic take on Charley Patton’s “Jim Lee Blues Part 1” recorded in Mississippi. The narrator, like that of “Go Home” has no mother and father and has to make it by oneself in an uncaring world. Fish’s take on the country blues reveals her ability to let the music breathe and allow the spaces between the words, between the notes, say as much as the sounds do. Or in this case, the sounds of silence suggests the emptiness she feels.
The title song, like the rest of the Shreveport material, rocks with a sneer. She’s not pining for the past or complaining about the present, Fish proclaims her independence and need for no one else. Of course, nothing in life is quite as simple as the volume of guitar riffs reveal. Sexual desire can get in the way of pride. Words are just words when feelings get in the way, especially when they are primal urges.
Fish ends the album with a gentle version of Junior Kimbrough’s “I’m in Love With You”. The tender expressions of love show another side of the human experience. The world may be a malevolent place where everyone is out for one’s self. But we need at least one other person to share our life with for it to have meaning. And isn’t that mixture of conflicted emotions always been what the blues has are about? Fish eloquently displays her understanding of this.