Sippie Wallace, Big Mama Thornton and Billie Holiday were among the female forebears who transformed the blues from a genre dominated mostly by men into a gender-breaking experience that women could languish in as well. After all, when it comes to heartache and disappointment, men generally prove as scheming and duplicitous as their female counterparts, giving the ladies as much or more to lament when it comes to expressing their sentiments in song. Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi carry that banner proudly, bringing with them the circumstantial scars essential to conveying authentic emotion.
Samantha Fish is only 25 years old, but it was already clear early on that she possessed the talent and tenacity to make herself a credible contender. She showed her mettle soon after launching her career at age 18, sharing stages with artists that were also her mentors, and by the time she earned her Blues Music Award for Best New Artist in 2012, she was already working with the likes of Buddy Guy, Jimmy Hall, Devon Allman and Mike Zito, among others. Now, with a budding reputation already established, Fish’s third studio set, aptly titled Wild Heart, bears the potential of maybe even making her a star. While it expands her palette from basic blues to a rootsier resolve, it’s remains equally verbose, a dozen fiery songs filled with the same frenetic guitar play, biting vocals and acidic attitude as Fish has demonstrated since early on.
Wild Heart demonstrates another side to Fish’s prowess as well, that is, the ability to write original material that further attests to her independence and insurgence. Five of the tracks she penned either on her own or with cowriter Jim McCormick, while a like number she co-composed with producer and the album’s key instrumental contributor, Luther Dickinson. (Others on the album include drummer Brady Blade and Shardé Thomas, guitarist Lightnin’ Malcolm, bassist Dominic Davis, and background singers Shontelle Norman-Beatty and Risse Norman.)
Indeed, there’s no doubt that Fish is in full flight here, whether its in the assertive stomp of “Wild Heart” and “Turn It Up,” the swagger and sway of the boozy ballad “Place To Fall,” or realized through a riveting rocker along the lines of “Highway’s Holding Me Now.” Easy comparisons suggest a slightly feistier version of those aforementioned contemporaries Raitt and Tedeschi, but a suggestion of that sort seems slightly sexist at best. When Fish lashes out at the epidemic of neighborhood violence on the telling “Bitch on the Run” (“Right now right now I’m feelin’ it/Breathin’ the smoke after the damage is done”), the outrage is palpable. On the other hand, when, after all is said and done, she opts for the art of simple seduction on the album’s final track, “I’m In Love With You,” here again, the emotion is open ended. (“Nobody/Nobody but you/On my mind”)
Ultimately, Wild Heart is the kind of album that becomes a sing post in a career that’s just now reaching full throttle. Fish has reason indeed to be proud.