It’s not often that my favourite Bonn venue has a chart topper appearing, but this morning’s prestigious Billboard Blues Chart shows Monday’s visitor to Bonn Harmonie debuting at the top spot with her new release ‘Belle of the West’. A mighty achievement after a mighty concert. She comes from Kansas City which is on the edge of America’s tornado valley, and Samantha Fish certainly blew up a musical storm in Bonn.
To see Samantha Fish topping the Blues Chart at a time when a part of her earlier fanbase may well have become sceptical of direction changes seems rather ironic a contradiction even. There was a good sized audience at the Harmonie but I noticed the absence of not a few otherwise regulars to such concerts. The reason for this was most certainly the unabashedly commercial ‘Chills & Fever’ released earlier this year. A disc with some fine Soul inspired songs it’s true (and also some fine Blues it should be pointed out- such as ‘Crow Jane’) ‘Chills’ has an air of commercialism running from its retro look cover of Miss Fish in leopard skin trousers and suitably coiffured with a Marilynesque air. It all looks, and to some sounds like, a grab for commercial stardom. If that view is why youweren’t here Blues lovers then you got it wrong – and worse, much worse, you missed a great concert.
Given that Sam Fish’s looks alone will attract I was surprised at the lack of posters around the streets for the show. As it turned out there was room to breathe but also plenty of people to make it a cracking atmosphere in front of the stage. On that stage was, Surprisingly, Samantha Fish for the first time here with her own band. Previous appearances have been with the Blues Caravan houseband and with Mike Zito’s band. My first chance then to rate the men Samantha Fish likes to have backing her onstage and I’m impressed. Not only are they an authentic all-American band, they are also an excellent group of musicians – in that each one had both the abilities and the style to play well but no-one over-played.
The spotlight was, as it should be, on the Lady stage centre and the said Lady could run the show without worrying too much about what was happening around her. Not that Samantha Fish is a perfectionist as she explained when talking later about the recording sessions for ‘Belle of the West’. It’s all about getting the feeling right and this they do very well indeed. Phil Breen on keyboards was deceptively low-key in appearance but slotted his sound in perfectly. Similarly the rhythm section of Chris Alexander on bass and Kenny Tuddrick (drums) were never thundering but right on the ball. Finally, the ‘Chills’ disc called for some good horn blowing so I was more than pleased to both see and hear Travis Blotzky (sax) and Marc Levron (trumpet) – I would also have happily heard a bit more from then but time is limited.
Sam Fish herself was the bold and brassy lady we all know and love. Whilst it’s true that electric guitar playing takes a slight backseat on the recent discs it’s certainly not true onstage. She has three electric guitars to chose from behind her all night – A stylish white Jaguar, A not so common Gibson SG and a big Delaney semi-acoustic that has a great deep roar of a sound, perfect for digging into the bluesier rhythms. There’s no cigarbox guitar onstage though sadly, but don’t panic…
With a trumpet and sax on offer there are obviously a number of tracks from ‘Chills…’ getting a run out tonight, from the show opener ‘He Did It’, through ‘Hello Stranger’ and ‘It’s your Voodoo Working’. The first thing I notice from these numbers especially is just how much more powerful the lady’s voice has become. She might not be Amy Winehouse (despite the black eyeliner) but she gets the best out of her voicebox for sure. Much more controlled than the early days when I saw her on the Blues Caravan Tour.
The bulk of this evening’s set comes from the two 2017 discs and much as I enjoyed hearing the soul/Motown side of Sam Fish I still very much prefer her Blues and probably the highlight of the evening was when she just plugged in her acoustic and dug into the roots of the Blues with Charley Patton’s ‘Jim Lee Blues’. On the subject of Sam and acoustic bliss I have to admit that one of her strongest numbers was actually ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ which was stripped down barer than on the new album and for my money even better than the recorded version. Oh, did I mention that it was Country Style?
But before you Blues lovers who stayed away shout back ‘I told you so” I should point out that dotted throughout the evening set were some stonkingly good electric guitar solos. ‘Somebody’s Always Trying’ even saw Sam kneeling down to play with the effects on her pedal board. A girls gotta have fun after all – and it was equal fun for us to hear her.
Just when so much great music had made me forget about it the lady left the stage to return with… the cigarbox guitar she found in a store not long ago in Helena Arkansas, former home of Sonny Boy Williamson II and the perfect place to find a Blues guitar. Even better, she used it to stunning effect on my favourite track from the ‘Chills…’ disc ‘Crow Jane’ There’s a brief snatch of the track under this review but you had to be there to truly feel those chords cutting into your soul.
Samantha Fish’s star is very much on the rise right now as that Billboard Chart placing confirms, and she WILL be playing outside the Blues because Samantha Fish plays her music outside of the box they try to put people in. There is one ‘genre’ though that I religiously abide by when buying music, and I may be narrow minded but I won’t give anything that doesn’t fit into ‘my’ genre the time of day. That genre that I invented for myself is called ‘From The Heart Music’ – and under ‘F’ in my imaginary shop you will be sure to find ‘Samantha Fish’.
Sam is also one of the nicest musicians you could hope to meet, and proved it by giving me an interview before the show at very short notice. Thanks for that Samantha, and I hope the local Bonn ‘Gold Bears’ tasted as good as the music did!
INTERVIEW COMING SOON. In the meantime here is a snippet from ‘Crow Jane’ to enjoy…