True Believer Reviews

HARD SWIMMIN’ FISH/True Believer:  Four piece white boys with the blues that have been kicking around Virginia for the last 20 years pair up with lo-fi meister Mitch Easter for a primitive sounding date that keeps it raw and wild.  Rocked up outer edge blues, this sounds like something that was recorded a long time ago when college coffeehouses stalked the earth and filled it with organic sounds---but it’s recorded in the now.  It’ll probably be too raw for many, but the level of chops powering the proceeding will generate cult passion as it throws off sparks with the real true believers.  Check it out. 

Chris Spector 
Midwest Record
Volume 39/Number 295
August 23, 2016

Hard Swimmin' Fish: 'True Believer'

Boy, Hard Swimmin’ Fish are fun, aren’t they? A staple in the Frederick music scene for what seems like a lifetime, the quartet’s live show has been a must-see for anyone who is even slightly familiar with the downtown music scene. The old-fashioned suits. The harp that blows hurricanes through the speaker of a telephone. The upright bass. The crazy-looking, unconventional drum kit. It’s a ball of entertainment each time it convenes, be it on the small stage at JoJo’s or on the streets during a First Saturday. 

But how does that energy translate in the studio? The answer to that question is nuanced. Sure, the visual novelties that accompany the group are invisible, and yeah, there’s historically been something that gets lost in this genre when you try to take it from the stage into the recording booth. But with “True Believer,” the band’s latest set, these guys display the ability to keep their unique blend of Americana, roots and blues in tact all the while purporting a rendition of the signature flair that makes their performances so memorable. 

“Ooh, That Was Close” embodies as much. Led forward with a driving train beat, it’s everything that makes Hard Swimmin’ Fish so endearing: a ragtime vibe soaked in humor and a light heart made all the more intriguing with a series of solos from Demian Lewis’s six-string and Waverly Milor’s white-hot harp. It’s just quirky enough to put a smile on your face — especially with Milor’s exasperated ad-libs that help fade the track to its end. 

The same urgency shines on “Come Together” and “Mess Around.” The latter is a modern day juke joint classic-in-the-making, recalling echoes of Ray Charles, who recorded the song all the way back in 1953. It turned out to be one of the legend’s first hits and the Fish do it justice all the way through the sprightly utterance of “I declare” that’s sure to make you smirk. The former then begins with Southern guitar work that practically makes the speakers sweat with its homage to delta textures and a deliciously swampy harmonica brightens the murky haze of humidity that circles the structure. 

Even the ballads work. “Need Your Love So Bad” thrives with its tradition, a straight-ahead slow dance that’s accentuated with the help of guest John Sharrer’s organ. It’s a tiny touch that makes all the difference in the world, suggesting it might be wise to add a fifth to this school of Fish on a full-time basis. “Love Me Or You Don’t” also slows things down, albeit it with more funk and a groove that slithers more than it saunters. It’s got that trademark sound these guys have perfected through the years: Pop blues with a touch of soul that opens up for some killer guitar work on behalf of Lewis. 

They stumble only when they lean too far toward the pop side of that equation. “Five Years Hard Labor” is fine enough with its jaunty structure and musical breaks that help the song get in and out of its payoff line, but it just feels like the record would be better served with a return to the Delta. “Love Me Or You Don’t” is better, Milor’s subtle playing giving the track a smokey backdrop, though even the pool hall atmosphere can’t save it from the throes of mediocrity. 

Worry not, however, because the fuzz that paints “No Shortage Of The Blues” epitomizes rock grit in an era when such things aren’t nearly as valued as they once were. Lewis even rewards listeners with a Stevie-Ray-ian rip that helps bridge the space between choruses. And then there’s the secret track that might just be the entire set’s best moment. Fully equipped with faded vocals and a loose rhythm, it sounds like the best front porch party you could find in 2017. The group backing harmonies also add an unexpected communal ethos to a band that makes its bones making people feel welcome. 

Which, of course, leads us back to the beginning: How does Hard Swimmin’ Fish’s live energy translate in the studio? Well, in the case of “True Believer,” the answer is quite well. Polished but not shinny, uncompromising but not sloppy, bluesy but not inaccessible, honest but not heavy, this record captures the quartet in a light under which they’ve never been able to shine previously. And while the water through which they swim might be occasionally cloudy, these aquatic creatures have never sounded so clean. 

It’s enough to make a believer out of anybody.

By Colin McGuire News-Post Staff 

Jan 25, 2017


New exciting CD just released by Hard Swimming Fish, our CVBS brother Waverly Milor's Band.  HSF has been together now for close to 20 years and with this being there 5th CD release in recent years, many are saying this is their best so far!!  True Believer is HSF's 2nd CD produced and recorded by the great Mitch Easters (REM fame) and you can tell by  the authentic sound produced on this CD.  It has an almost old timey feeling with a high quality production that is hard to resist playing over and over again in the Car CD Player!.  With Vocal and guitar work from Demian Lewis, Vocals and Harmonica from Waverly Milor with as strong of a rhythm section you could ask for with Randy Ball on upright Bass and Jason Walker on Cajon, pots, pans and anything else that will make noise, you will be entertained on how these 4 come together to bring one unique and authentic Blues sound from their music. 

       The title song on this CD (and the first song) puts you right in the mood for the rest of the CD.  Hard driving, haunting reverb authentic recording that puts you in deep Mississippi on a hot summer day.  Some of my other favorites off the CD are Howlin Wolf's Howlin for My Darlin with almost rockabilly twist to the melody that really works. Demian's guitar work is particularly great as through out the whole CD.  An original, Ooh that was Close, is a humorous lyrical venture sung by Waverly that has your feet tapping hanging on to find out how the story ends.  One surprise on the CD is the slow (with organ) blues of Need Your Love So Bad sung incredibly well by Waverly Milor.  Waverly is know for his hard driving blues, it is great to hear his softer side!!  But my Favorite on the CD is The Gospel, Don't Let The Devil Ride, that HSF takes it to an updated hard moving Blues rattler.  The song starts with Randy playing the melody on upright and the rest of the band coming in strong.  Great emotion and feel.  Some amazing percussion from Jason through the CD. 

       I am pretty hard of new blues coming out, but have to say overall I think HSF has caught something that many bands are missing these days.  New updated lyrics with drive and old timey feel.  Go get you a copy and there is a surprise in the CD if you listen real closely!!!  Well Done HSF!!

 Central Virginia Blues Society

"True Believer", the excellent new release from Hard Swimmin' Fish, sounds simultaneously old and new. Overdriven vocals and harmonica give this record the edge of one recorded decades ago. Likely recorded with vintage analog gear, it has the warmth of an old record, but stands up proudly against any modern record. The original songs hold their own, and even surpass, the four time-tested cover songs on the record. "No Shortage of the Blues" stands out as a stellar song, and one impossible to listen to without bobbing one's head."

Cletus Kennelly
11 time Wammie award winning singer-songwriter

Authentic. From the start of the first track, which is the CD's title song, "True Believer", through the final track, a traditional song called "Don't Let The Devil Ride", the word "authentic" stuck with me. This blues quartet records as they perform live; with energy, road proven skill, purpose and always thoroughly entertaining! 

The combination of passionate vocals, harmonica, drums, stand up bass and resonator guitar, sometimes played with a slide, is nothing like a standard bar band. The Hard Swimmin' Fish are the real deal. You will not be disappointed.

Les Hatley
Wammie Award winner, Maryland Entertainment Hall Of Fame inductee and long-time member of the Songwriters' Association of Washington Board of Directors.

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