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Samantha Fish – Testing Her Limits and Pushing Her Boundaries

Always Evolving and Growing

Written and photographed by Brooke Billick

Samantha Fish brought her traveling show through the Midwest to Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday, December 5.  Promoting her new release, Kill or Be Kind, her sixth solo offering and her debut on Rounder Records, Fish performed before a packed house at the historic Majestic Theater.

To see Samantha Fish in person is to witness a force of nature.  She is an incredibly talented artist who sings and plays with the soul, spirit and experience of someone far beyond her 30 years of age.  She tours constantly, interspersing her travels with intensive studio time crafting new music and developing her label, Wild Heart Records, as a home for unique artists.

Originally hailing from Kansas City, Samantha has been playing the guitar for over half her life and has created a personal, unique style with its roots in blues and soul while embracing the journey into new creative ground.  Samantha’s singing combines heart-felt lyrics of love, loss and life’s travails with vocals ranging from a soft lilt to raging at the top of her lungs.

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Having won a ton of album and artist of the year awards over the past 7 years for her singing, songwriting and incredible guitar work, Samantha Fish has emerged as one of today’s premier guitarists. 

Samantha Fish charged into her set with her electric cigar box guitar on “Bulletproof,” the lead song on Kill or Be Kind.  As a kind of modern-day version of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” Fish visits a timeless theme—a misogynistic relationship where the other person is all-important—at least in that person’s eyes.  What one has and then loses—”Make me feel something real, I’d fall for your muse. . . But it’s all about you.” With her five-note repeating opening slide riff and wry, soft vocals, Fish drew the crowd in and then blasted them away on the chorus. 

Like prior sets witnessed by this reviewer, Samantha Fish changes up the style and intensity of her music—from song to song and often within each song.  Just as you think she’s on the verge of mellowing during a set, Samantha Fish pulls out her kick-ass shredding skills. Ample evidence of that was in “Watch it Die”—her ode to taking a stand and holding her own. 

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Fish’s superb backing horns shined on “She Don’t Live Around Here,” her collaboration with Americana artist, Parker Millsap.  Again, returning to a common theme on the album, Samantha soulfully wails about the waste of time in repairing a failed relationship.

Samantha Fish pulled out old favorites during the set.  She played two back-to-back songs from Belle of the West.  “American Dream” and “Blood in the Water” reflecting her combined elements of Southern blues with a bit of country.

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Samantha brought her cigar box guitar back out as she closed her regular set with crowd-favorite “Crow Jane” from Chills & Fever.  She launched the song with some serious shredding while adding vocal inflections with the help of her distortion mic that characterized her moody vibes.

Acknowledging the roaring, appreciative crowd, Samantha Fish and her band came back for her two-song encore, “Go Home” and her rock tribute “Bitch on the Run,” giving the house a last taste of her amazing guitar work and vocals.

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Each of the songs from her new album, Kill or Be Kind, successfully reflect Fish’s evolution and growth as a performer, player and collaborator.  In her words, Samantha has become more respectful of the melody, feeling that simply going up and down on the fretboard is not going to be as powerful as conveying a simple melody to draw in her fans.

Samantha Fish brought in several renowned song-writing talents to help with the lyrics, including Jim McCormick, Kate Pearlman, Millsap, Patrick Sweeney, and Eric McFadden—talents who she credits with bringing out more nuance in her song-writing on the album.

Nicholas David – A funky opener

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Blend together the DNA of Isaac Hayes, Dr. John, Van Morrison and Marvin Gaye, then add a sprinkling of George Clinton—the result would surely be Nicholas David.  Hailing from St. Paul, Nicholas David and his Feelin Band opened the night for the Madison crowd. 

Drawing upon the wells of blues and Southern Soul, Nicholas David has enjoyed a solid regional reputation around the Minneapolis area.  He instantly attracted national attention as a Top-Three finalist on the third season of NBC’s The Voice.  

David’s joining the Devon Allman Project on its 2018-19 tour led to a meeting with Samantha Fish and an invitation to come to New Orleans for her help on his new album, Yesterday’s Gone.  The album, which Samantha Fish produced, was recently released on her label, Wild Heart Records. 

During his opener, Nicholas David effortlessly transitioned from soul, jazz, and blues to funk, playing well-known covers as well as his original tunes. 

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True to form, he began his set with his unique soulful take on the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Goin On.”  He followed with his song, “Hole in the Bottom,” which begins with a kind of pastoral sound described as slightly reminiscent of a grittier Bruce Hornsby.

David’s cover of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” showed the range of his commanding voice with its sultry, evocative, and almost seductive, tones.

Whether he was paying respect to the crowd, or maybe throwing a little shade at a Wisconsin dance stereotype, Nicholas David cast his own funky interpretation on the “Merry Christmas Polka.”

David returned to his greasy, funky intonations with his song, “I’m Interested,” and then concluded his set with the crowd-favorite, “Lean on Me.”

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Samantha and her band are touring through the end of the year, with shows closing the chapter on 2019 at her home venue, Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City and The Blue Note in Columbia, MO.  She will join Jam Cruise 18 in January 2020 and then take some needed time off before launching her next European tour in Glasgow in late February.

As shown by this tour and her new release, Kill or Be Kind, Samantha Fish has evolved into a genre-crossing artist with a little something to appeal to just about everybody.  At the heart of her work are genuine emotions and experiences that closely reflect her soul.

If you’ve not had the chance to hear Samantha Fish, start with a sampling from Kill or Be Kind, her most mature work to date.  Then work your way through her catalog—you won’t be disappointed!

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And be sure to check out Nicholas David and Yesterday’s Gone, his unique blend of soul and blues.

For ticket and tour information visit Samantha Fish and Nicholas David.

See full gallery of the night!

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Upcoming Samantha Fish Tour Dates:

DEC 19--Philadelphia, PA, World Cafe Live Philadelphia

DEC 20--New York, NY, Playstation Theater

DEC 21--Derry, NH, Tupelo Music Hall

DEC 22--Cambridge, MA, The Sinclair

DEC 27--Springfield, MO, The Riff

DEC 28--Kansas City, KS, Knuckleheads Saloon

DEC 29--Columbia, MO, The Blue Note

JAN 07--Miami Beach, FL, Jam Cruise 18, MSC Divina


Brooke Billick is based in Milwaukee. By night, he happily haunts crowded bars, taverns and music venues featuring live music while pursuing that perfect artist profile or facial expression. He has covered singer-songwriters, bands, and music festivals for several years, and feels energized by the passion and talent of the performing artist. Facing the prospect of retirement from full-time employment head on, Brooke looks forward to expanding his photographic opportunities and takes to heart Tom Petty’s advice – “if you don’t run, you rust.” You can find Brooke’s portfolios on Flickr and Facebook and follow him on Instagram @brookebillickphotography.

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