I’ll admit – as a musically ungifted individual, I’m quite honestly impressed by anyone who can play both, say, electric and acoustic guitar. So the folks who can master all range of different instruments, plus sing and write, are the ones whose talent always knocks me out. Suzanne Santo came onto the Americana scene as one half of the duo HoneyHoney, playing guitar and fiddle along with writing and singing beautiful harmonies with Ben Jaffe. Now, after 2017’s outstanding solo debut, Ruby Red, followed by touring the world with Hozier and pausing for the pandemic, Santo is back with her second record, Yard Sale, an unburdening of sorts which leaves the singer – after no inconsiderable amount of personal chaos – in a happier place.
Unlike its predecessor, which began with the woman-on-fire churner “Handshake,” Yard Sale begins with a more subdued Santo asking herself questions in the third person in “Over and Over,” trying to understand her own decision-making – “You can give out your love when you want to/Without giving it all away.” Set against a martial beat provided by co-producer John Spiker and bolstered by a Greek chorus of sorts imploring her to “move the hell on,” the opener sets a new, less feverish tone. The first single from the record, “Bad Beast,” has Santo acknowledging her own id and the complications that it brings – “There’s a bad beast living in me/Chaining me up then setting me free” – punctuated by growls and grunts from drummer Paul Doyle.
Personal growth and hard lessons continue on the mid-tempo, banjo-inflected “Mercy,” which dips back into Santo’s youth, full of fights with siblings, lost pets and creepy-ass neighbors. The slow-burns that Santo is so adept at are best represented in “Goldrush.” Somehow striking a balance between Ryan Adams (minus the ick factor) and Sonic Youth, the tune runs the gamut for pensive indie country to swirls of howling guitars while the singer tries to remind herself to slow her own roll – “Was it too much, my love/Like a gold rush/Getting rich too quick really f@cked you up.” The song’s not so much an apology as it is a kiss-off, though – “Well so long friend/You ain’t striking big like that again.” If you can’t handle intense emotions, friend, it’s best you find yourself another girl.
Santo relocated from LA to Austin recently, and the move finds her feeling more personally and musically fulfilled (see interview link below). For us listeners, it’s also given her the chance to work with some of Americana’s best. “Afraid of Heights” has Shakey Graves chipping in on vocals on the string-enhanced, melancholy tune about pushing away from toxicity – “Trying to make me feel for you/While you’re crushing me.” And personal favorite Gary Clark Jr contributes (what else) a fiery guitar solo to “Fall for That,” turning a smolder into a full-on house fire. Respect and admiration in music is found not just in skill and passion, but also in those who want to work with you, and Santo is amassing herself quite an impressive call sheet.
Even with all of the biggest and best of Texas showing up, however, Yard Sale boils down to Santo’s willingness to expose her mistakes and, hopefully, document her growth (she explains the album’s title as what happens when “a lady accidentally knocks her purse over, and all her sh!t falls out”). But it’s also a chance to clean up and get rid of what’s no longer needed (the purported purpose of a yard sale). “Common Sense,” a piano-driven ballad featuring an appearance by HoneyHoney’s Jaffe on guitar, has her returning to her Cleveland home in an attempt to clean out the mental cobwebs. Album closer “Island,” a pretty acoustic number with Santo’s most country-hued vocals on the record, has her making peace with her frenetic nature – “Yeah, I overdo it sometimes/I am cursive on a holiday card/All holly and silver bell chimes.” But the gateway to the peace that she seeks comes in the very first track on the record – “Better days ahead when you keep it out instead/Of letting it back in over and over again.” Whether it’s external toxicity or the “bad beast” inside her, Santo is intent on walking away from bad influences and toward a more healthy future.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Fall for That” – I was lucky enough to see Santo and her fantastic band in Denver in July, but if Mr. Clark were to show up and scorch the stage with his solo, I’d be OK with that.
Yard Sale was produced by John Spiker, Suzanne Santo and Alejandro Rose Garcia. All songs were written by Santo, with co-writes going to Spiker and Garcia. Additional musicians on the album include Spiker (drums, percussion, synth bass, piano, keys, bass, baritone guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, Omnichord, vocals), Paul Doyle (drums, percussion, drum programming, grunts), Dylan Day (acoustic guitar, electric guitar), Drew Taubenfeld (electric guitar), Blaine Stark (slide guitar), Michael Uhler (saw), Leah Metzler (cello), Shakey Graves (vocals, programming), Gary Clark Jr. (electric guitar), Ben Jaffe (electric guitar) and Darris Sneed, Kesha Shantrell, Whitney Wood and Leah James (vocals).
Order Yard Sale (out Aug. 27) here: https://stores.portmerch.com/suzannesanto/
To see Suzanne Santo on tour: http://www.suzannesanto.com/tour
Read Americana Highways’ interview with Suzanne Santo: https://americanahighways.org/2021/08/23/interview-suzanne-santo-on-yard-sale-and-more/