Album Review: Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton – Death Wish Blues

Review by Peter Coates –

Released – May 19th 2023
Rounder Records

Blues powerhouse Samantha Fish and crossover rock artist extraordinaire Jesse Dayton have just unveiled the latest material from their occasional collaboration, the album Death Wish Blues out May 19th on Rounder Records.  With gritty, dirty hooks alongside fierce vocals from both Fish and Dayton, the album, recorded over just 10 days, is a bold collision of blues, soul, punk, funk, and fantastically greasy rock-and-roll.

Hailing from Kansas City, MO, Samantha Fish is one of the most dynamic blues forces in the world today, headlining festivals and captivating audiences with her guitar prowess and power vocals. An award-winner and road warrior, she performs 200 shows yearly, both domestically and abroad. Death Wish Blues is her 7th album.  Jesse Dayton boasts an exceptional resume as an acclaimed solo recording artist, collaborator with artists such as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Duff McKagan, a touring guitarist for seminal punk band X, teammate with Rob Zombie on the soundtracks for his iconic horror films, and as a radio show host on Gimme Country.

Death Wish Blues evolved from the duo’s 2022 EP, Stardust Sessions, which featured imaginative covers of Brand New Cadillac, I’ll Be Here in the Morning, and Feelin’ Good. Their undeniable musical chemistry led to a recording session at Applehead Recording & Production in Woodstock, produced by the inimitable Jon Spencer (Blues Explosion).  The album features 12 tracks, all originals written mainly by the two guitarists in tandem, and Spencer’s input has more than done justice to the quality of the songwriting, with his high-impact approach to production.

On the face of it, the combination of Fish and Dayton may not be the most obvious in the blues-rock world, but from the earthy grungy riff that kicks off Deathwish, and the sneering vocal line from Fish, the almost funky beat grabs the imagination, and the combination of the incendiary guitar sounds, over the rock-solid beat from bass and drums provides a hypnotic and captivating mix.  Down In The Mud sees Dayton take the lead vocal line over a pulsating drum pattern, with the intense bassline driving the tempo, while the twin guitars do ridiculous things over the top!  It would be so good to know which of the players takes the lead on each track, as I am not clever enough to work it out!

The new release, Riders, is a superb slice of groove-heavy grungy blues, with the two sharing the lead vocals, with some distortion applied to both in the verses, and the two trading lines in the hugely catchy chorus, building up to a frenetic climax of voices, guitars and feedback to end the track.  There’s a bit of the White Stripes and the Black Keys in the overall sound, and this is very different to the Samantha Fish back catalogue – but every track offers something different, and there is such complexity in the layers of guitars created by Jon Spencer that there is always something new to hear.

Settle For Less is more discordant in parts, and sees Kendall Wind (bass) and Aaron Johnston (drums) work together to underpin the track, driven by a rolling guitar line, until the slab of chords crunches in for the chorus. The middle-eight has some scorching guitar work before the solo, and then that snare-driven drum pattern thunders in again for the final chorus.

A Stax-like beat and vocal from Dayton, accented by some horn-like keyboards from Mickey Finn, sees Trauma bound along, telling a tale of heartbreak and pain, until the mid-section which drops the tempo and blasts out some super-distorted guitar noise, before jumping back to the main beat for another verse and chorus, that leads us to another chaotic final stanza. 

Everyone takes a breath with No Apology, a much more laid-back blues ballad with Fish taking the vocal lead, and more of an Alanis Morrisette or Sheryl Crow vibe to the melody.  Flooded Love is back in the groove, with the pair sharing the lead vocals again, and with more ultra-distorted guitars wailing away behind the vocals, and we get another of these epic middle-sections, down-time and with moans and guitar licks mingled through the discordant guitars, until the final chorus builds and builds until the sudden close.

A classic duet of voice and guitars chasing each other across the up-tempo beat is the quick fix of Lover On The Side, with a staccato core riff, and then running lead breaks mirroring the vocals, as the two of them belt out the words, paradiddles underpinning the backing.  Fish starts off the vocals of Rippin’ And Runnin’ haranguing Dayton for inaction, and then we are into another frantic and catchy chorus.  The verses are bare of much guitars, and then they pile in for the chorus, and there is a searing solo in the mix too.

I love the enormous sound of Dangerous People, which is almost industrial in the feel of the verses, and the real melody comes to the fore in the chorus – which again sees all sorts of multi-layered guitar and keyboard lines, and backing voices weaving themselves into a complex pattern behind Samantha’s big loud vocals.  A ripper of a 2-minute wonder is Supadupabad which hustles along with 70’s synth lines, while Dayton delivers a spoken word verse, before a set of guitar solos and rhythm breaks that just chase each other along, driven by the drum and bass tempo – almost like Shaft meets up with heavy punk guitar band.

The album closes with a soulful blues duet, Know My Heart, which is less of the chaotic guitar duel which seems to characterise much of the album – and which clearly has progressed on from the Brand New Cadillac track which was their first effort, without changing the overall sound much, other than to become a bit dirtier.

The album is a wonderfully gritty exposition of how two fairly different players can forge some special chemistry and pull a bunch of quite consistent tracks together, curated by a Wildman of the Blues Guitar in Jon Spencer, who has allowed Fish and Dayton to apply their own particular talents and genres, and added the raucous, greasy “noise” to the mix, which sets this apart from a lot of other artists, and gives Death Wish Blues its sonic power and intensity.

Samantha Fish – vocals, guitar, cigar box guitar, junk yard percussion
Jesse Dayton – vocals, guitar, baritone guitar, tambourine
Kendall Wind – bass 
Mickey Finn – keyboards
Aaron Johnston – drums

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Pics – Daniel Sanda