Samantha Fish, Cassie Taylor & Dani Wilde,
Girls with Guitars
(Ruf, 2011)

If a cover photograph showing three attractive, electric guitar-brandishing young women shrieks "gimmick" to you, put your natural cynicism aside and give Girls with Guitars a fair hearing. First, the three -- Samantha Fish, Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde -- are more, a lot more, than the sum of their looks. Fish is from Kansas City, Wilde hails from England and Taylor is the daughter of bluesman Otis Taylor. They've all recorded before and put in plenty of time, alone and together, on the blues circuit. They aren't, in short, the equivalent of a contemporary Nashville faux-country act, where glamour trounces substance just about every time.

If Otis Taylor is respected as both traditionalist and innovator, with a style that manages to touch at once on both the history and the future of African-American vernacular music, Cassie Taylor -- who's played electric bass in his band for nearly a decade -- puts forth a more focused sensibility, reviving pre-disco 1970s African-American pop and r&b, perhaps most enchantingly realized on her original "Leaving Chicago." Wilde's sensibility is most often expressed in rock-flavored blues, with the classic-era Rolling Stones one notable influence; Girls with Guitars opens with Wilde on lead guitar and vocal with a version of the Stones' charmingly titled "Bitch" from the 1971 Sticky Fingers, which I could swear I last heard more than 40 years ago. On the other hand, the one acoustic country blues here is Wilde's own "Reason to Stay," rendered most satisfyingly on solo dobro. Fish sounds like someone who's immersed herself in rock, blues, jazz and soul and picked up the right lessons.

If these women were less gifted, this could have been just another annoying, too-many-goddam-notes blues-rock exercise, overproduced so as to render the impression that somebody's beating you over the head; that sort of thing is about as soulful as a tire jack. But Fish, Taylor and Wilde pretty much do it all right -- guitars, vocals, songwriting -- and they keep the sound down to earth, under control, generally spare and persuasively emotional. I would like to believe they intended it that way, and it's not because they're recording on a low budget as artists on a small, German-based blues label. Actually, from a purely technical perspective, the record doesn't sound cheap at all. It's crisp and warm, a sonic delight along with the other ones.

music review by
Jerome Clark

8 October 2011

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