Tag Archives: Suzanne Santo

Album Review: Suzanne Santo–Ruby Red

Rating: 9/10

Well, I haven’t been this excited about an artist in awhile, and I’m happy to introduce her and her music for any of you who are blissfully ignorant, like I was until last Thursday when she took the stage at Medicine Stone. So, it turns out that Suzanne Santo was previously half of the duo HoneyHoney, and this is her first solo album. It’s hard to pin it into any one genre, but it isn’t straight country; what you’ll get from this record is more a country rock/southern Gothic sound, mixed with some acoustic stuff. The commonality in it is it’s all pretty damn good music.

 “There’s a real sexist approach to having a bluntness about you that I really had to cope with. … It’s like ‘Oh, she’s being difficult’ ‘cause you have something to say.” That’s what Suzanne Santo said about the songs on her new album, and you can tell from the opening lines of the album, “I wanna smoke, and I wanna drink, and screw every time I think about you,” that she definitely has something to say. There’s something raw and unpolished in her writing and phrasing that shines through on many of these songs, signifying that, as she has said, this album is quite autobiographical, if at times metaphorical. She’s not afraid to say what she wants; later in the opener, she cries out, “don’t water down my whiskey, babe.” She’s not afraid to talk about vices and explore the darker places in her mind on “Ghost in my Bed” either. This one has some cool fiddle echoing in the background that adds to the atmospheric production. And she’s not shy about telling us exactly how she feels on the appropriately titled “Love Fucked Up,” when she says that she had the power till her lover came and “pulled my hair and bent my neck.” It’s incredibly refreshing to hear her so unashamedly saying things like that, and yes, hearing them from a woman, much like the material on Robyn Ludwick’s album, does add a certain overall power and coolness to the whole experience. As she alludes to in the quote above and points out later in that article, she’s being “unladylike” with this material, but not for the sake of it, it’s just her story.

But she’s not always drinking or talking about sex; there are some truly tender moments on this album too. They serve to show another side of Suzanne Santo and if anything add legitimacy to the darker stuff because it comes across as more real than as just put there to be shocking. “Best out of Me” is one of the best tracks here, as Santo tries to avoid repeating the cycle of the broken relationships in her family’s history. “Better Than That” is another standout, this one acoustic and probably the most country thing on the record. This song really shows off Suzanne’s vocals; she’s got a great ability to really draw out the emotion in each syllable, but sometimes on the more intense tracks, her voice can be drowned out some. In fact, it’s drowned out the most on the atmospheric “Regrets,” but thankfully, we get a beautiful acoustic rendition of that to close the album. Hearing the acoustic version makes me like the other one better–once I understood all the lyrics, I was able to enjoy the rocking production on the original more.

And speaking of production, congratulations to this album for being 100% interesting all the way through. No boring mid-tempo lull in the middle that lost me, no lack of variety in style or tempo, no shortage of interesting fucking melodies…I wrote my rant about melody after Suzanne Santo released this on August 11th, but if I hadn’t, I would have sworn she’d heard me. This is exactly the opposite of everything I criticized in that article. OH, and no crappy vocals–yes, her vocals do get drowned out sometimes, and that’s my only tiny complaint with this album, but she’s a fine singer. She’s got ridiculous power on “Handshake,” not to mention all those cool runs, and then she can tone it down and sing stuff like “Better Than That” beautifully. This has honestly been the first album I’ve genuinely enjoyed all the way through on first listen in over 2 months; the last was Tyler Childers, and y’all know how I feel about that album.

So, if you haven’t figured it out, I love this album. If you are more into darker material, more rock-leaning stuff, spacey production, check this out. If you like your songwriting unpolished and honest, there’s something here for you too. Really, there’s very little wrong with this in any regard, and I actually almost gave this a 10. I think really the only thing holding it back was maybe one more song to blow me out of the water; it’s all very consistent, and there are a couple great songs, but one more, and I’d have probably given this a 10 even despite her voice being drowned out at times. Anyway, I don’t have any more profound thoughts, just go listen, and get to know Suzanne Santo.

By the Album

Highlights from Medicine Stone 2017

It’s a great thing as a proud Oklahoman to see what the Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland have started in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with Medicine Stone. It’s a wonderful three-day experience of music and fellowship on the Illinois River, and I recommend going if you like Texas and Red Dirt music, or even just live music in general. The people are great too, and I was glad to go back for a second year. Last year, I tried to cover as many bands as possible–though it is physically impossible to see all of them because some of them play on different stages at the same time–so this time, I wanted to write something a little different. I thought overall, the fifth Medicine Stone was even better than the fourth, and I really enjoyed almost everyone I saw. So rather than reiterating that for a bunch of different artists, I thought I’d highlight some of the lesser known artists that impressed me, and maybe introduce some of you to their music. We all know Randy Rogers and Boland and Turnpike can put on a good show–that’s why they were the three headliners–so I want to focus more on some of the other names. (Also, if you want to see me gushing about Turnpike’s live performance ability, you’ll likely get that in a month when I attend their album release party.) Anyway, the point to be taken here is that I probably enjoyed artists I’m leaving off this list–these are just some that stood out and deserve some recognition.

Suzanne Santo

Medicine Stone came under some fire in 2016 for only having two women on the lineup. This was taken into account, and several more women were included on the 2017 list, many of them highlights of the whole weekend. I didn’t know Suzanne Santo before she took the main stage to open things Thursday night, but I am a fan now. She has a new album out that you will find a review for shortly.

Shane Smith & the Saints

Friends, if you’re not listening to Shane Smith & the Saints, you’re doing it all wrong. One of the best things I saw both last year and this year. Phenomenal harmonies, ridiculous fiddle playing, good songwriting, interesting production…just get on board with this band. Massively underrated. I don’t know why more people aren’t writing about them. And for the ones who are already in on the awesomeness, go see them live. Also, you’ll be glad to know they are working on a new record!

Shinyribs

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Shinyribs aren’t going to be for everyone, as proven by my cousin’s reaction to this. But they should be, and I do hope they will keep coming back to Medicine Stone. I’ve been wanting to see them live since I discovered their latest album, and yeah, it lives up to everything you hear about it. Just fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and I like that. Get on board with them as well.

Sunny Sweeney

This was Sunny Sweeney’s first time at Medicine Stone, and all I can say is, please bring her back. One of the best performers as far as the more country side of Red Dirt goes. And really good interaction with us all. Also, just saying, she needs to record that lovely song she sang for us called “Whiskey Richard.” Just saying. She said it won’t get cut, but I think it should. I’d also like to point out that as a huge Sunny Sweeney fan but not necessarily a huge Trophy fan, I actually liked the songs from that album much better after hearing them live. Her personality made them come alive a lot more onstage.

Red Shahan

I’d like to apologize to the entire Medicine Stone community for not seeing Red Shahan last year–as I said, it’s physically impossible to see everyone, but I heard a lot of people tell me I should have seen him, and you know what? They were right. Good Lord, this is just a cool artist. Just as I said Sunny stood out among the more country artists, Red Shahan stood out among the artists with more rock leanings. He definitely needs to come back.

jaime lin wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson played at a smaller stage this year, and I was upset at first because she’d been on the main stage in 2016–but she shines in this intimate setting. She was one of the standouts last year, and she was even better this time. Also, I may have gotten to hear a song she wrote that Evan Felker added a verse to, and yes, it will be on the new Turnpike album. And Jamie Lin, we need some more new music from you soon.

Kaitlin Butts

The opposite of what I said about Jamie Lin applies to Kaitlin Butts–she was moved from a smaller stage to the main stage, and this is much better for her. All that attitude and energy is freer in this setting. She said she’s been to Medicine Stone all five years, and she should keep coming. Another one of these that’s massively underrated. Maybe not quite as much now after her song with Flatland Cavalry, but still. Get to know her, she’s one of Oklahoma’s best-kept secrets.

Jason Boland & the Stragglers

Okay, I’m breaking my own rule. Last year, Turnpike blew me away,and this year it was Jason Boland, and even though I’m trying to focus on lesser-known artists, I can’t ignore the outstanding live show that Jason Boland & the Stragglers put on. Best headliner I saw, and a tie between this and Shane Smith & the Saints for the best thing I heard all weekend. Something especially sweet when you get to sit there as an Oklahoman watching an Oklahoma-based band absolutely murdering the song “If I Ever Get Back to Oklahoma.”