REVIEW: Samantha Fish’s “Kill or Be Kind” Impresses With Both Songwriting and Chops


The tricky thing about being a blues guitar player – bringing that on-stage fire into the studio and emerging with a cohesive collection of songs based on more than hot licks. After burning down stages for a decade, Gary Clark Jr. met that studio challenge earlier this year with his third major-label release, This Land. Likewise, Samantha Fish has been killing it live for years – on stage, she’s commanding, compelling, ferocious and sexy, and she’s as good a guitar player as you’ll ever hear. This time around, she’s committed herself to putting something just as memorable on record. Her new release, Kill or Be Kind, impresses as much with its songcraft as it does with her legendary chops.

That’s not to say that she left her ferocity at home. Fish busts through the gate immediately with “Bullet Proof (Tangle Eye Mix),” wielding her trademark cigar box guitar and some studio vocal tricks to distort her voice and enhance the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics of the song. Lyrically, she sings about a lack of vulnerability, in herself and in the music business: “You got me trained to sit on stage/Not show my rage for you.” (The song also features what may be the first use of the word “bellicose” in a rock song).

“Bullet Proof” and “Try Not To Fall In Love With You” are the only solo-writes on the album. The latter finds Fish pushing her vocal range, too – she’ll remind you of Lake Street Dive’s Rachael Price (oh, yeah, she can most definitely sing), but with twin guitar solos. Like many of the tracks on the album, the song features a horn section, the Memphis sound nicely complementing Fish’s guitar work. The horns on the title track add to the outright R&B feel of the song while Fish reminds a partner of his options: “Back before my kiss branded you, you were wild and free to roam.” 

The majority of the songs on the album are co-writes, and the most compelling partnership is “She Don’t Live Around Here,” written with Parker Millsap. It’s a mid-tempo blues number which has Fish pushing away an old lover – “I knew that someday you’d come back/When again you felt you’d fallen off track” – who’s not ready for the new Samantha: “She don’t live around here anymore/Who are you looking for?” But the new Samantha can still throw down, and the album end, like it begins, with a dirty blues, rock ‘n’ roll,absolute barn-burner. “You Got It Bad” finds the pitfalls – “Snakes in your garden, just devil’s decor” – in working toward a life’s dream, but, just as Fish has, you can get yourself there: “You got it bad/Better than you ever had.” That dirty work/worthwhile outcome encapsulates Kill or Be Kind, as well.

Kill or Be Kind was produced by Scott Billington, recorded by Steve Reynolds, Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, Jake Eckert and Chris Finney, mixed by Reynolds, and mastered by Paul Blakemore. Additional songwriters include Jim McCormick, Patrick Sweany, Kate L. Pearlman, and Eric McFadden. Musicians include Austin Clements (bass), Rick Steff (keys), Andriu Yanovski (synth), Doug Belote (drums), Jim Spake (saxophones), Tom Clary (trumpet), Charles Hodges (organ), and Anjelika Joseph and Kayla Jasmine (backing vocals).


You can order Kill or Be Kind here:


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