The Junction, Cambridge
Review by Paul Monkhouse
Photo by Laurence Harvey
Let’s just start by saying this: Samantha Fish is one of THE BEST guitarists you will ever see. Currently touring Europe, she has both the musical chops and the material to put on a real masterclass with her unique brand of country infused blues rock that is, by turns, seductive and eviscerating. Backed by a formidably tight three-piece band, she blew away the packed audience in a display of ferocious virtuosity showing that not only is Blues alive but just as vibrant and relevant today as it ever has been.
‘American Dream’ opens the set with a real swagger and kicks things off supremely, a template for the thrills to come. This was no warming gently into the show but a full-blooded leap into her world, the delightfully twisting rhythm of the song and fantastic vocal intonation of the chorus immediately drawing the crowd in. Whilst the band propel the groove, Fish is full of effortless cool and unleashes the first of many slide solos that highlight her deft touch and feel. Never someone to get complacent, there is a real shift in style to next number, the title track from the 2017 album ‘Chills and Fever’. With a delightful retro sound, it’s a much more jazzy/soul number that has a swing and style more akin musically and vocally to the late Amy Winehouse. With its terrific keys solo by Phil Breen, the song shows how Fish isn’t afraid to grow naturally and infuse her material with some of the best elements of 20th and 21st century music. In fact, it’s lazy to label her as ‘just a Blues artist’ because she is so much more than that and shows a really unique blend of different styles whilst at the same time very much having her own unique identity.
‘Wild Heart’ adds another twist with its galloping and insistent riff, the song rocking along as the passionate vocals power over the top of it. Fish looks utterly consumed by the music as a curl of blonde hair falls over her eyes whilst she rips into her guitar, her whole body lost in the glorious sound. ‘You Can’t Go’ wasn’t so much an instruction as an impossibility, transfixed as the audience were by the four musicians onstage and featured yet another outstanding solo whilst the more mellow ‘Hello Stranger’ cooled the pace once more with its soulfulness. ‘Cow Town’ was introduced with the tongue in cheek “for all you Hillbillies out there” and featured a much more ‘country’ twang to the vocals. Breen was again given the platform to shine as individual solos by both keys and guitar took the spotlight and highlighted the superior calibre of musicianship, each member of the band a master of their craft.
The first of two newly released singles, ‘Watch It Die’ is an incredibly catchy taster from forthcoming album ‘Kill or Be Kind’, propelled along by a pedal to the floor riff that is unpinned by bass player Chris Alexander and drummer Scotty Graves who lock in to provide a rock-solid base whilst adding their own style and panache. Coming over like a heavier version of prime late 70’s Fleetwood Mac, it transported the Monday night Cambridge crowd to the widescreen vistas of desert highways of Mid-West America, speeding along in an open top Pontiac GTO, a testament to the songwriting flair and an evocation of Fish’s Kansas roots. Further capturing the spirit of America, ‘Little Baby’ was an exercise in joyful rockabilly that saw the band having as much of a ball as the audience, it’s lyrics of longing and regret juxtaposed with the upbeat bounce of the music. Once more, the rhythm section of Alexander and Graves shone as they drove the beat along, the live version ramping up the fire of the original recording.
The slow, soulful country blues of ‘Go Home’ provided a much-needed breather and showed how Fish could shine equally as well with an acoustic guitar as electric, delicately plucking at the strings as her plaintive voice soared. A truly beautiful number, the vocal harmonies lifted it even further into the realms of the angelic and there was a hushed awe as if the slightest noise could break the spell. Following that with another tender number would have proven impossible so ‘Gone For Good’ was a rocking, raging storm of bottleneck slide guitar masterstroke, sandwiched as it was between the ballad and the second of the new releases ‘Love Letters’. Again, it can’t be overstated that Samantha Fish is not only an incredible player but a superb songwriter too and the track is both slinky and seductive whilst being instantly memorable therefore making it a perfect single to release.
A phenomenal ‘Somebody’s Always Trying’ is an exercise of swing that strips the sound to a pulsating, mellow soundscape, its breakdown building to an extended solo that really is a highlight of the night as the guitar sighs and screams before heading back into the chorus to finish the song. Rounding off the set, ‘Shake Em On Down’ was a perfect slice of down and dirty blues, the four-string cigar box guitar adding exactly the right level of authenticity and grit as the song slides along with the smoothness and slightly rough edge of a good bourbon. Of course, the crowd weren’t going to let the band just go without an encore and their chants and claps were rewarded as, to a huge roar, the four musicians strolled back on stage. Ripping into the heavy-duty rocker ‘Bitch On The Run’, it’s snotty, snarling attitude and irresistible chorus squeezed ever last drop of energy out of the audience and left them empty before saying a final goodnight. A barnstorming showstopper in every sense of the word, it was the perfect end to a perfect evening and one that those lucky enough to be there will be talking about for years to come.
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Photo reproduced here with kind permission of Laurence Harvey