'Belle of the West' is Samantha Fish's fifth studio album, and a surprisingly swift successor to her fourth, 'Chills & Fever', which was released in March this year. But, I have to admit, this is my very first encounter with the US musician's art... and what an inauguration it is into her world. This is flawless in every possible way.
Music can serve several purposes in a person's life. Contextually-related, of course. It could be argued there are merits in all music, given the right time and place. But, what's most important to me, first and foremost, is an inherent emotional connection through the listening experience. Music that stirs my emotive being at its very core. Where cognition of such becomes secondary... which is ironic as a reviewer, I know, as thinking about the music you're evaluating has to take precedence. But music that moves me regardless of genre affiliation; regardless of preconceptions based on press blurb; etc, etc... basically, free from any degree of conscious thought... 'Belle of the West' is one such album. It has an ineffable emotional beauty that's all too rare these days. But, ineffability aside, I shall attempt to describe something of this truly sublime work.
According to press info, Fish has already "established herself as a rising star in the contemporary blues world." But, 'Belle of the West', while traces of blues motifs are audible, is so much more. Genre feels secondary here. Fish has coloured her songs with particular stylistic traits, for sure... Mississippi Blues is one self-proclaimed affinity. But it all feels so naturally executed that she's undoubtedly used genre elements to dress, rather than dictate, her compositions. Dressed for certain affect, if you will. As such, an overriding quality of the album's beauty is how organically emotive it all is. Songs are slickly smooth and seductively sultry, and ooze effortless cool through their sonically captivating charms. 'American Dream' might have quaint folky/blues charms, but it never feels like I'm listening to a folky/blues song. Rather, it feels like I'm being affected by a song. 'Blood in the Water' sounds of another time with the tremolo effect on Fish's guitar (a recurring effect she uses throughout the album)... but, again, it's all about the emotional affect. The title track has a definite country twang, but I find myself so lost within the emotions of the listening experience that this is merely an afterthought.
Her voice is as multidimensional as her music. There are discernible flavours of blues, soul, folk and country in her vocal delivery (as there are in the execution of her compositions)... but, again, it's all about the emotions rather than genre affinity. The affections, inflections and timbre of her singing feels pure. And her guitar work is minimalist, in one sense, yet says so much. There's no shredding; no overt displays of virtuosity (at least in terms of technical wizardry)... rather, Fish's lead playing is as ostensibly casual sounding as the compositions and their delivery. BUT... fuck... those emotions run deep. Very deep. A player that can make just a few notes, over several bars of music, sound as affectively profound as this is pure and from within their very aesthetic being. Emotional expression is where Fish's musical virtuosity resides.
Produced by Luther Dickinson (who also contributes guitar and mandolin), this is a very nice sounding record indeed. I'm unsure who was responsible for the mix, but this is equally impressive. The different layers and textures of the songs are blended to perfection. And the other musicians involved, including Lillie Mae, Lightnin' Malcolm, Jumbo Mathus, Amy LaVere, Tikyra Jackson, Trina Raimey and Shardé Thomas, bring Fish's compositions to life with some skilful performances on drums, upright bass, guitars, vocals, harmonica and violin.
In one sense, 'Belle of the West' is anachronistic... it sounds of another era... yet, it's a refreshing blast from a bygone age that sounds timelessly relevant in 2017 and will, no doubt, still sound relevant in decades to come. Ultimately, this is an emotionally nourishing record that offers a thoroughly satisfying listening experience. Essential stuff here, folks.
BELLE OF THE WEST
Review by Mark Holmes
17th Nov 2017
1) American Dream
2) Blood In The Water
3) Need You More
6) Don’t Say You Love Me
7) Belle Of The West
8) Poor Black Mattie (feat. Lightnin’ Malcolm)
9) No Angels
10) Nearing Home (feat. Lillie Mae)
11) Gone For Good
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"In one sense, 'Belle of the West' is anachronistic... it sounds of another era... yet, it's a refreshing blast from a bygone age that sounds timelessly relevant in 2017 and will, no doubt, still sound relevant in decades to come."