Pete Feenstra chatted to Susan Santos for his Feature show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio. First broadcast 26 August 2018 and featuring tracks from ‘No U Turn’.
TWH Records [Release date 19.01.19]
Recorded in Madrid, mixed and mastered in LA and sung in English, Susan Santos’s 5th album ‘No U Turn’ is her best yet. It showcases her scintillating guitar playing over hypnotic rhythms, strong material and a vocal style that gets inside the songs, while exploring different musical genres.
All 9 tracks all fit together seamlessly and flow like the best albums always do, as Susan shapes her material with the kind of gusto that has led her to winning the ‘Best Performer’ category at the European Blues Awards.
She’s got an understated confidence that bubbles to the top via snaking guitar lines at the core of a song-driven album, full of energetic arrangements, sparkling solos and a bright production that illuminates her considerable abilities.
She’s obviously been working on her vocals, as evidenced by her clever phrasing on ‘Slow Down’ as the song heads for a sudden tempo change. She also employs a completely different vocal attack on the outstanding ‘Shakin’ All Over’, a track full of tightly wrought dynamics, hot picking and great phrasing.
The feverish rhythm could be Captain Beefheart from his ‘Ice Cream For Crow’ album. There’s also some nuanced percussion and her final gnawing solo is that of a guitarist who knows the value of touch, tone and dexterity as part of her melodic armour.
Then there’s the way she brings light and shade to bear on her guitar playing, most notably on the big tremolo guitar figure of the Americana fuelled ‘Dry River’.
This evocative track could easily be the soundtrack to a noir or road trip movie and provides another album highlight. An interesting bridge provides some mid-number contrast on a good illustration of her song craft and high class musicianship.
The very catchy ‘Feeling Good’ provides the other album highlight, though it’s only marginally better than the closing ‘In Trouble’, if only because the latter recycles the familiar strains of ‘Rattlesnake’ from her previous ‘Skin & Bones’ album.
‘The song’s swampy guitar, snare tic-toc and an uplifting chorus and lyrics puts you in mind of John Fogerty: “Going down the road turn the radio on, I’m feeling good.”
And it’s her ability to reference several roots-rock heavyweights while still carving out something of her own, that makes Susan Santos special.
This album hits a mature seam of song writing with real feel, infectious rhythm patterns and big grooves that could have been stretched out more.
The opening rhythm to ‘Blind Woman’ for example, could be Doyle Bramhall II, before her vocal takes the song elsewhere and into a stop-time chorus.
But it’s her ability to stretch out over several genres without losing her own DNA that is most impressive. Listen to the tension building riff on ‘Fool Me’ which is resolved by a melodic hook and a sudden startling guitar solo.
She heads into southern rock on The Allman Brothers’ influenced ‘Freedom’ – with echoes of ‘Midnight Rider’ on the opening vocal line, complete with a banjo. Her lyrical line: “I’m a freebird”, adds to the southern feel of a very radio friendly track with a great vocal and interesting tone colours. The uplifting arrangement and hypnotic riff also combine to evoke the song’s unfettered title.
There’s even room for a rip-roaring rockabilly tinged ‘Heaven Or Hell’ powered by some scintillating guitar and more banjo work, offset by a powerhouse rhythm section and layered blues harp which serves to fatten out the sound.
A perfunctory ending leaves a void that her next song can’t fill quickly enough. It’s a great example of the album’s intrinsic flow which draws us into a mellifluous musical journey illuminated by Susan Santos’s all round artistry.
If ‘No U Turn’ sounds like a musical mission statement and the album art work suggests Americana , her imperious slide work and lead work pushes her into various related musical areas that perfectly fit her burgeoning song craft, on an album you should definitely check out. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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