Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton - Death Wish Blues

Coming soon to a drive-in near you . . .
Don’t miss the thrilling tale of Sam and Jesse, a deadly duo of star-crossed rock’n’roll outlaws, hustling gigs from town to town.
They’re on the road . . .
They're wearing leather . . .
And they
Or sump’n like that.  I mean, I'm not sure Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton would tell you Death Wish Blues is any kinda concept album.  But still - clad in danger signal yellow/black artwork, the whole Bonnie’n’Clyde schtick is there if you want it.
Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton - Natural Born Killers
Pic by Melrose Kaelan Barowski

I mean, who’s seducing who on the darkly throbbing opener ‘Deathwish’?  Backed by a slithering riff, Fish jabs out a lyric about a woman advancing on a guy standing in the shadows at a party, sticking his hand on her shoulder, and feeling his breath on her neck as he leans in for a “kiss like a death wish," inspiring some hectic guitar soloing.  And is this the same twosome that head off down the highway on ‘Riders’, grifting a rock’n’roll living with (so to speak) one-night stands from coast to coast?  Here they're propelled by some funky, squelchy keyboards, prodding bass and six-string stings, while the chorus adds raunch that's underlined by a warped, buzzsaw guitar break.
These are troubled characters though, our hero declaring on ‘Trauma’ that because of her he has “fever in my dreams” but “it’s never gonna stop me loving you”, over a shuffling rhythm from Aaron Johnston on drums, edgy, spaced out guitar notes and a twitching riff.  Then that trauma erupts into a squall of guitar over a Zep-like bridge, as the track heads towards an agonised conclusion.  In response, Fish delivers the very Fish-like love song ‘No Apology’, opening with vulnerable, aching vocals, insisting that “I can’t be your enemy and your everything,” but that “It’s you, you that I want,” and eventually launching into soulful vocal territory on a tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on Chills And Fever.
But there’s helpless heat for each other too, as on 'Flooded Love', on which they recall “We knew the levee was gonna break, so we did it again for old time’s sake”.  It's all rumbling bass, snapping drums and low-slung ‘Peter Gunn’ riffing as Dayton and Fish go at it together on vocals, the flood a metaphor as “Feeling reckless, we both explode”.  The tension rises until the dam busts open musically and the bridge comes tumbling out in a maelstrom of guitar, before they pound their way to another, er, climax.  It’s love and hate o’course, as they taunt each other on the rattling rockabilly of ‘Lover On The Side’ that “You ain’t my woman,” and “You damn sure ain’t my man”.  It’s a conversational duet, full of prickly guitar culminating in an itchy’n’scratchy solo and a bridge in which the pair of ‘em get, shall we say, a bit overheated.  Meanwhile ‘RIppin’ And Runnin’’ builds slowly through an acoustic blues picking intro, booming kick drum and pulsing bass, with Fish breathily demanding “Come on baby, why don’t you do something for me?”  We’re talking steamy provocation over grimy guitar and quirky keyboard vibrations, clambering its way to a barbed-wire guitar solo.
Yessir, these are, like the song says, ‘Dangerous People’.  “Trust me,” Fish drawls over junkyard percussion, “a crook knows another crook”, en route to a big, catchy chorus proclaiming “We’re dangerous, don’t play with us, unless you wanna get busted”.  And if that trails off a bit inconclusively, it’s only to make way for the high-octane party animal of ‘Supadupabad’, a two-minute rollercoaster ride of a familiar-sounding juddering riff laced with needling guitar and squiggling keys in the background, while Dayton makes chuckling, basso profundo conversation about “drinking Courvoisier from a crystal cup”.
There’s other good stuff along the way that maybe doesn't fit the imaginary film noir script, like ‘Down In The Mud’, which opens with a lurching chorus before diverting into the pulsating funkiness of its verses, with distorted spoken interventions from Dayton and some bristling guitar breaks.  And there’s ‘Settle For Less’, a pithy “no half measures” commentary with tick-tock percussion and a needling vocal from Fish, added to an explosive rocking chorus and some wiry guitar work.
Finally, there’s what one might consider the epilogue of ‘You Know My Heart’, a ballad that’s firmly in the Fishy waters of ‘Go Home’ and its ilk, a duet with Stonesy strummin’an’pickin’ and a sensitive harmonised chorus.  There’s a key change as it swells romantically towards its end, with Fish adding some trademark soulful vocal remarks over squealing but restrained guitar.

Death Wish Blues is a deceptive album.  You could call it an exercise in garage band alt.blues, or some such.  But with the assistance of producer Jon Spencer there are a lot of twists and turns packed in here – in fact there’s a lot packed into each of these 12 short’n’sharp songs, with the scribbling, doodling keys throwing frequent stabs of funk into the mix.  When you get down to it Death Wish Blues is 21st century rock’n’roll, with Jesse Dayton cast as a leather-clad Link Wray rebel - and hey, they really should work 'Rumble' into their live set - and Samantha Fish as his cigar-box toting femme fatale.  It’s full of personality, which suits Fish, who has often cleaved to character-based songs, and here plays sassy, troubled bad girl types with considerable relish.
I had some doubts about this project, after taking in a rather underwhelming live show by Fish and Dayton last month.  But the album works.  It’s fresh and it’s fun, and invested with some neat story-telling.  Go get some popcorn, and enjoy the ride.
Death Wish Blues is released by Rounder Records on 19 May, and can be ordered here.

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