Suzanne Santo Reaches Sensual Highs and Gritty Lows on 'Ruby Red'
By Brody Coronelli
The mere mention of country music is, more often then not, accompanied by a groan from the opposite party. Pop radio has maintained a grip on the genre for years now- a grip so tight that it now has more in common with hip hop and glitzy dance-floor anthems than any semblance of it's roots. However, there are artists on the fringe staying true to the spirit that spawned it. For the last decade, Suzanne Santo has made a name for herself as the vocal front of one of the best bands in this vein: Honeyhoney, a twangy, rollicking collaboration between Santo and guitarist Ben Jaffe.
The country, blues, and soul driven Ruby Red is Santo's first step into solo territory. The Butch Walker produced LP is named after the same studio where it was conceived, and like many records Butch Walker has been involved in as of late-- an energy that joins forces with the exceptional vocal and songwriting talent of Santo-- Ruby Red feels like a classic by the first listen.
This solo debut sees Santo exorcising her demons with sensual highs, gritty and yearning lows, and a nostalgic swagger that often renders her presence as a singer and songwriter irresistible. Many of these songs deal with the lustful throes of desire, particularly the opener "Handshake", a rootsy, tumbling slow-burner which traverses the landscape between independence and being at someone else's whim, albeit for one night. This perspective is rarely depicted from the female end, and Santo's unapologetic painting of carnal yet introspective desire is admirable when placed in the midst of the male-dominated world of songwriting. The glossy, more upbeat lead single "Ghost In My Bed", which is driven by a harmonic violin that mirrors a climbing piano lead deals in similar territory, this time focusing on the lonely, estranged aftermath of extinguished love; the tender remains of a connection more haunting.
One of the most impressive aspects of Ruby Red is Santo's prolific assemblage of influences that trace the spirit of multiple genres without losing touch with her own vitality as a songwriter. "Yours or Mine" is driven by a charming, minimalistic doo-wop guitar lead and Santo's gracefully drawn out vocals. Similarly, "Love Fucked Up" channels a bluesy grit and spends more time sharpening itself than it does chasing tenderness.
Ruby Red's finest moment is the infectious, radio-ready "Regrets". With an ardent, windows-down urgency, this irresistible and anthemic song soars with a pounding rhythm section and a hook that subtly sweeps you off your feet. While a fair amount of Ruby Red deals in lustful, low-down grit reminiscent of the melodic side of outlaw country, blues, and soul, "Regrets" deals in a pop-sensible spark that wouldn't sound out of place at the top of the charts.
As a whole, Ruby Red is a well-rendered solo debut that stays true to the country rollick of Honeyhoney while also showcasing Santo as a well-equipped solo artist willing to venture into unknown territory. Her potential as a solo artist comes through in full force on this record, and it shouldn't go ignored.
Listen to: "Regrets", "Best of Me", "Handshake", "Yours or Mine"