Album Review: Samantha Fish’s ‘Kill or Be Kind’

Album Review: Samantha Fish’s ‘Kill or
Rounder/Alysse Gafkjen/Sage LaMonica

At a time when rock music remains in a deep recession — to put it politely — there are few more encouraging sights to see than a badass, slide-guitar-wielding female from Kansas City lobbing some blueswailing rock and roll.

That’s exactly what Samantha Fish has been serving up for the better part of a decade, particularly on “Bulletproof,” the lead single from her fourth studio album and debut for Rounder Records, “Kill or Be Kind.” It’s probably the best new rock song we’ve heard all year, and maybe for a few years: Based around a remarkably simple three-note slide riff, the song and the singer roar and blaze across a surprisingly long and suspenseful five-plus minutes, going quiet on the verses and erupting on the choruses and snarling on the song’s extended instrumental break. While she stomps on the Jack White pedal maybe a little too hard (particularly when she sings into the distorto-microphone on the chorus), well, Jack himself has had the pedal set at around six for the past few years, so it’s a refreshing take on a tried-and-true sound.

Things get calmer from there, as Fish shifts into a more conventional blues/soul mode, with lots of Otis Redding/ Stax-style horns. This album is a largely successful effort to branch out her songwriting and styles a bit from the blues side of the tracks (there’s plenty of snarling rock and roll on her 2015 album “Wild Heart,” which, along with the more acoustic 2017 follow-up “Belle of the West,” was produced by Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars). Songwriting collaborators here include Jim McCormick (Luke Bryan, Keith Urban), Kate Pearlman (Kelly Clarkson) and others, and producer Scott Billington (Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Solomon Burke) brings his diverse background into giving the album a unified sound. The songs generally move between horn-speckled, midtempo R&B, rockabilly, slower ballads like “Dream Girl,” and the occasional jaunt back to the snarling rock that opens the album.

It’s by far her most mature and diverse album and is a smart long-term move — but damned if Fish doesn’t sound most at home when she turns up her amp and wails.