September 30, 2020

Samantha Martin is a soulful singer-songwriter from Toronto, Canada, and she fronts a huge band with a huge sound. Promo photos for this release show her with six musicians and backing vocalists, but the liner photo to her previous album, 2018’s Run To Me, displayed 10 supporting musicians plus another one that didn’t make the photo session. The name of the band may conjure up a deep-south, gris-gris infused bayou sound, but that’s not really where we’re at with this one. The band has won awards or nominations in several blues categories too, but again, it’s a push to call it a blues album. Horns and backing vocals abound on this set, which owes at least as much to Motown and 1960s pop as it does to southern gospel and the smoky bars of New Orleans.

Samantha Martin (centre) with current line-up – photo by Paul Wright

Samantha’s recording history stretches back to 2008, but this is her third album with Delta Sugar. For those who may have heard the previous offering, which admirably showcased her superbly-tuned vocal chords, I would have to say that this set is better still. While that set owed plenty to country rock influences, these seem to have dissipated somewhat, and while it may not fall easily within the accepted confines of ‘rock’, the energy and power of the songs, and especially of Samantha’s epic voice, make it worthy of note.

Every song is written or co-written by Samantha, with the exception of an upbeat treatment of Bob Dylan’s 12-bar classic Meet Me In The Morning. Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves though, so let’s return to the album’s opener, Love Is All Around. The band sets out its stall with this groovy blues rocker, complete with a horn section. As if it wasn’t funky enough, the number ups the groove ante with an outlandishly funky bridge at 2:30, before returning to the main theme. A great, tight ending brings this one to a halt at four and a half minutes, while the second number (and lead single) Don’t Have To Be, starts in somewhat slower, but just as funk-infused. This is more along the lines of the Blues Brothers’ Give Me Some Lovin’, and that kind of ‘60s blues rock feel, complete with Hammond solo, is really about as close as we can get to the band’s core values – check out the video at the foot of this page.

Third track is the aforementioned Dylan blues rocker, then Samantha gives her raunchy pipes full throttle on Loving You Is Easy. It’s a bit of a jam really; the lyrics are pretty basic on this one, but the groove really gets rocking in the second half.

Samantha lets rip – photo by Mike Scott

For my money there is a bit of a lull with the next couple of tracks; One Heartbreak is a fairly standard pop-rocker, and while I’ve Got A Feeling gets up close and personal with a down-tempo, end-of-evening blues vibe, there’s no doubt that the momentum drops too. It rises again with Sacrifice, a three-minute galloping rocker, with a rhythm reminiscent of Benny Hill’s Ernie, of all things! A massive wall of sound makes a fairly successful effort to drown out the vocals here, but I get the distinct impression it would probably go down well live! The sound is very 1960s, conjuring up visions of Lulu and the Luvvers.

So I’ll Always Know is another 1960s-infused rock ballad, this one in triplet time, while Pass Me By displays blatantly Motown-based influences. The issue of which songs benefit from female backing vocals, while others have male, is an interesting aside, but for this one, the whole lot are massed together.

The massive cast of the previous album – photo by Paul Wright

Better To Have Never returns to the slow, end-of-night, blues torch song format – but it seems to work better than I’ve Got A Feeling, for me at least, with its sweet guitar solo and tastefully-deployed horns to add punctuation. All That I Am is another three-minute pop song, this time bringing a standard piano to the fore for the first time, then the 46-minute set closes with Who Do You, which is interesting for a couple of reasons; there is a nice psychedelic phased section halfway through that pitches and rolls across the stereo pan like a ship at sea – wear headphones for the full woozy experience – but also for the way Samantha chooses specific words from the chorus to create a cryptic title. ‘Who Do You’ comes from the song’s line ‘Who Do You Think You Are.’ In other songs, the line ‘Don’t Have To Be Cruel’ is truncated to ‘Don’t Have To Be’ for the title; ‘Watching my life pass me by’ becomes simply ‘Pass Me By’, which conjures up a different picture entirely. It’s a slight idiosyncrasy that adds an extra layer of interest to proceedings.

As mentioned, the album is not hard or heavy, although there is always plenty going on. The grooves are super-funky, especially on the first half of the album, although to my mind the momentum wanes towards the end, but Samantha’s raunchy rasp is superb throughout. All the way through, a solid wall of sound recalls Roy Wood’s Wizzard. In fact the musical style  is not far off that mark either, so if you can imagine a funked-up Wizzard fronted by Janis Joplin, you’d be more or less there.

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