I don’t know how Samantha Fish does it. Kill or Be Kind is her sixth solo studio album in eight years. She put out two great albums in 2017 (Chills and Fever and Belle of the West). I keep waiting for her to repeat herself or cut a corner and it has yet to happen. Kill or Be Kind is eleven Fish-written tracks of soulful rhythm and blues, with a strong and familiar emphasis on the blues.
Fish’s voice is, as always, perfect. It’s breathy and feminine, but also has a bluesy growl. It’s pretty but not delicate and gritty without being abrasive. And her guitar playing is equally flawless, with solos that are as lyrical as anything she sings. These are the essential ingredients to a Fish album, and they’re all present here.
The title track is like a pop song from another era. The horns and electric piano give the song a 1960s soul energy. Fish focuses on her vocals but eventually brings in her guitar for a beautiful solo every bit as expressive as her own singing. As lovely as the vocals are, Fish gives them just a hint of an edge that keeps the track from sounding too throwback. The subtle snarl to her vocal keeps things exciting.
“Love Your Lies” goes back even further, with a 1950s manic energy. Producer Scott Billington uses horns here, too, that admirably keep up with the song’s ferocious pace. It sounds funny to discuss Fish’s youthful-sounding vocal when she’s just 30, but there’s something joyful and carefree about her singing here that reads as young. The joy extends to her guitar solo, which is wild and much less disciplined than her work across the rest of the album. And it’s fun hearing a great guitarist cut loose in that way.
Fish cuts loose in other ways, too. “Bulletproof” features a rollicking slide riff courtesy of a cigar box guitar. The track feels straight out of the North Mississippi hill country, but it also has a Black Keys/White Stripes vibe due to its distorted vocals. It’s a very cool track that shows Fish’s versatility.
Fish recorded this album in Memphis and that, combined with the horns, give this album a soul feel. But thanks to Fish’s strong sense of herself, she’s never washed out of the songs. Instead, it’s like she’s emphasizing different parts of herself. So while Fish has always written soulful songs, very much like the ones here, the production simply enhances aspects of something she was already doing. And perhaps that’s the secret to how Fish can keep making great records: She has a strong sense of who she is as an artist and simply lets her producers emphasize different components of her work, giving each album a different-and-yet-familiar sound. And what a sound it is.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Kill or Be Kind
– Love Your Lies
– Watch It Die
– Try Not to Fall in Love with You
The Big Hit
Review by Steven Ovadia