Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Susan Santos - Sonora

“Do what I want, when I want,” sings Susan Santos on track six of Sonora, which is titled, er, ‘What I Want’.  And it’s a suitably assertive chunk of bluesy rock’n’roll to convey that sentiment, with a throbbing riff, a decent hook, and a slippery guitar solo into which Santos bungs some dollops of grit as well as adding some satisfying overdubs on the way to a gutsy finish.  That lyric is an appropriate statement of intent too, because across the eight tracks here she doesn’t allow herself to get stuck in a rut.
A couple of the best tracks here steer away from blues-rock altogether.  ‘So Long’ comes over like classy, rootsy guitar-jangling pop à la early Pretenders, with a catchy chorus that hints at Kim Carnes 'Bette Davis Eyes'. Meanwhile Santos’s vocal may not be Chrissie Hynde cool but it’s still plenty
Desert rose Susan Santos
stylish, as are the backing vocals she adds towards the end.  Later, ‘Call Me Tonight’ works toe-tappingly well in a similar vein, with hints of the Boss’s ‘Fire’ in the melody, a spiky, stumbling guitar figure, and some fun Santos soloing to boot.
Apparently the desert was an inspiration for much of Sonora (the Sonoran desert crosses the US-Mexican border, by the by), but ‘Snakebite’ sounds less like some Wild West tale of tragic love than a Kinks tune given a woozy European feel – which is both different, and just fine by me.  Maybe it’s a bit overlong, but the interesting percussion sounds and swoops of slide do enough to hold the attention.
There’s definitely more of an American vibe to ‘Voodoo Wheels’ though, which comes over like Texas blues as it rattles along on skipping, shuffling drums, while Santos adds buckets of low-slung baritone guitar twang, and adds a skimming, scratching, bendy solo too.  It puts me in mind of Ian Siegal’s ‘I Am The Train’, with his guitar amigo Dusty Cigaar in the lead guitar seat – and that’s a positive comparison, believe me.
‘Have Mercy’ on the other hand, is a quirky slice of laid back honky tonk tootling that blends bluesiness with country and even hints of jazz in a smile-raising, slightly boozy fashion. It’s got an interesting melody with occasionally surprising twists, and a pleasing, spangly guitar break too, giving it an extra lift.
This multi-faceted selection actually comes as a pleasant surprise after the opening ‘Hot Rod Lady’, a clichéd bit of chugga-boogie  which suffers from less than scintillating lyrics and a pretty predictable chorus. Still, the rhythm section of David Salvador on bass and Juli El Lento on drums rumble along in intriguing fashion, and Santos adds a half-decent two-part guitar solo to perk things up.
I'm pleased to say she makes a better fist of the closing ‘Let It Ride’ though, to exit on a positive note.  A game of two halves, it kicks off in an energetic funky blues rock groove with SRV-like choppy rhythm guitar, with a straightforward chorus and a skating, warped guitar solo.  Then it segues into a slowed-down, grinding second phase dominated by slowly bent out of shape guitar groaning and squealing, before closing with some squeaking’n’bleeping atmospheric interference.
Apparently Sonora is the sixth album by Madrid-based Santos, which is news to me. It makes for an appealing letter of introduction though. I look forward to hearing more of her diverse, do-what-I-want stylings in the future.
Sonora is released on 5 April, and is available on vinyl and CD here, and digitally here.

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