We should know better than try to predict what Samantha Fish will do next. This is her first foray in the producer chair and as label owner. That’s right. She’s started her own label, Wild Heart Records. And, conventional wisdom (let’s say from two or three years ago) would suggest that she sign a blues-rocker for her first artist. But that was then. Samantha has become one of the most unpredictable genre-crossing artists recently. Sure enough, her first signee, Louisiana’s Jonathon Long, is another genre-crosser. While there are clearly some blues present on two or three tracks, for the most part Long wears the mantle of an outlaw country singer-songwriter except that his guitar playing would be the envy of almost any of them.
Long hails from Baton Rouge and at 29 years old, he has established himself regionally in an area rich with blues legacy tracing to Buddy Guy, Kenny Neal, Tabby Thomas, Lightnin’ Slim and others. Yet, Long doesn’t try to emulate any one of them. He is writes his own personal, spirited songs and there are ten of them here, the other written by Detroit’s Kenny Tudrick, a Fish cohort and drummer for the Detroit Cobras. Most of the album is done in trio format with Chris Roberts on bass and Julian Civillo on drums. Samantha plays guitar on three tracks and sings on the Tudrick tune, “The River.” The 11 tracks were cut live at NOLA Recording Studios in the Crescent City following Mardi Gras.
Many of the songs are around three to minutes long, the riffs are familiar but put together in fresh ways, as Long runs the gamut between utter despair and limitless hope. Take the opening track “Bury Me” with these lyrics – “All that I know how to do is take a pen and a sheet of paper or two/write a few words about peace and love/ Louisiana and the heavens above/Bury me when I am gone/with my guitar and some cheap cologne/all that’s left is a pile of bone/remember me through the words of my song.” Long can play an endless string of guitar notes or comfortably strum on his acoustic all support of the song. His resume and former nickname, Boogie, indicate that he can be the guitar hero when the occasion calls for it, but this effort is clearly about the songs.
Several of these songs are outstanding. “The Light” features Michael Harvey on fiddle (note credits seem incorrect) and is a beautiful uplifting Americana piece. Even “Living the Blues” has more of a country feel than blues. Phil Breen adds his organ to “Natural Girl,” making this two and half minute up-tempo song one of the disc’s strongest rockers as Long churns out a fiery economical guitar solo. “The River” becomes a centerpiece of sorts, with Breen again on keys and Fish joining on guitar and vocals. The ill-chosen drinking song “Pour Another Drink” follows. Long has better fare than resort to it. Yet, he more than compensates in the high energy blues rocker (yes, he can do that too) “Pray for Me.”
Jonathan Long sings with as much passion as he brings to his guitar playing. Demonstrating some strong songwriting for his debut effort, this is his opportunity to break out.
- Jim Hynes