(Samantha Fish photo by Kaelan Barowsky)
EAR BLISS Reviews by Dan Ferguson
In recent years, music festivals have been popping up with greater frequency on the summer landscape. The beauty of them aside from the warm weather and kick-back attitude of attendees? It’s the smorgasbord angle to them with promoters typically offering up a stylistic variety of sounds and styles from an array of artists. For the attendee, it’s a great way to sample and that is what Ear Bliss did with great frequency this past summer. One such event was the Green River Festival last July and while I walked away a satisfied customer, two artists, in particular, truly stood out amongst the 40-plus performing over the course of the weekend, with each having recently released new music. Tyler Childers hails from Kentucky. His roots in the hollers of Eastern Kentucky play heavily into his songs. He made a big splash with his 2017 album Purgatory Road and so much so, it helped land him a major label deal with RCA Records. His debut for the label is called Country Squire and it gets the Ear Bliss look-see with a new album from another Green River Fest favorite, Samantha Fish, called Kill or Be Kind. Her debut for Rounder Records, in many ways it reminds this scribe of early solo releases for Rounder subsidiary Bullseye Blues by Susan Tedeschi and we know what happened to her. Let’s take a look.
RCA/Hickman Holler Records
When you’re standing in an audience watching a performer and it seems everyone around you is singing the words to his songs, it is certainly a tell-tale sign that those songs are connecting. Such was the case this past summer at a music fest in Massachusetts when Tyler Childers was performing. As a comparative note, just a year earlier at his Newport Folk Festival appearance, such was not the case. The songs were from his 2017 breakout album, the critically acclaimed Purgatory Road, and were honest snapshots of life in and around rural Lawrence County located in the Eastern Coal Field of Kentucky from where Childers hails and where times can be tough. A storyteller in the purest sense, the songs were semiautobiographical in nature and all from the Southern perspective of Childers taking the listener from the days of his reckless youth through the maturation process into manhood. In true Southern gothic style, the elements were all there, both good and bad, from sin and enticement to moonshine and murder to finally redemption. The music, a blend of twang and atmospherics, provided the perfect backdrop. Childers’ latest called Country Squire whereas a bit more polished, is a fitting follow-up. Just like Purgatory Road, the production team again is Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson, the latter of whose credits include working with U2, John Prine and the late Johnny Cash. That prior blend of twang and sometimes eerie atmospherics again provide the musical backdrop to Childer’s beautifully crafted story songs which continue to draw from his Eastern Kentucky surroundings. In other words, if you like what you heard the last time around, Country Squire will no doubt please. Visit www.tylerchildersmusic.com.
Tyler Childers performs at the House of Blues in Boston on Thursday, December 10.
Kill of Be Kind
Only 30 years of age, the blues-rock guitarist/singer Samantha Fish has already garnered plenty of attention for her fiery ways with a six-string. Simply put, she can flat-out tear it up on electric guitar. On her debut for Rounder Records called Kill of Be Kind, she also demonstrates there is a lot more savvy to the package than just guitar pyrotechnics. For the album, veteran producer and three-time Grammy winner Scott Billington was enlisted and he brings some heavy credentials to the proceedings having worked his magic on past albums for the Rounder concern from legends like Irma Thomas, Charlie Rich, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. He does much the same on this outing from Fish who while she does air it out on guitar on numbers like opener “Bulletproof” and “Love Your Lies”, it is her vocal work that knocks this album out of the park with her deep dives into blue-eyed soul, sultriness, and country. Who knew Fish was such a gifted singer, not to mention songwriter what with having a hand in all 11 songs comprising the album? They’re all keepers. Add in her ability to flip the stylistic switch with such cool and ease and get right in bed with a song and we are looking at a talent with an album in Kill or Be Kind that has breakout written all over it. Talk about a bright future, Samantha Fish sure seems like she has one. Kill or Be Kind is highly recommended. Visit www.samanthafish.com.