Tennessee Redemption – Self-titled CD
Endless Blues Records TREBR1032019
10 songs – 48 minutes
Formed by harmonica player Brandon Santini and guitarist Jeff Jensen – both stars in their own right, Tennessee Redemption is a stellar reunion of longtime friends who’ve played hundreds of gigs together both on Beale Street and around the world.
A fixture in Memphis for most of the 2000s, but now based in Springfield, Ill., Brandon first met Jeff in 2011, when Jensen, a California native, was about to head home out of frustration after abandoning his band. A chance meeting resulted in Santini offering him the guitar and band-leader spot in group.
Their partnership endured for two years before Jensen launched his own band again. In the years since, Santini has gone on to be a multiple nominee as harp player and entertainer of the year in the Blues Music Awards, and his This Time Another Year disc with Jeff in tow was a finalist for 2014 contemporary blues honors. Another disc, The Longshot, was a 2019 Blues Blast Music Awards winner, beating out Shemekia Copeland and others in the same category. Jensen, meanwhile, has been a finalist for Blues Blast’s 2015 Sean Costello Rising Star trophy in 2015 and has released a series of powerful albums in his own right.
The pair reunited in 2017 for a few festival dates, billing themselves as The Santini-Jensen Project. The effort proved so enjoyable that they vowed to work together more often, and Tennessee Redemption is the result. It’s something they prefer to regard as a collaboration rather than a supergroup, and the lineup includes folks who work regularly in both their touring bands.
The roster includes Timo Arthur, who replaced Jensen in Santini’s band, on second guitar along with Brandon’s bassist, Bill Ruffino, and Jeff’s drummer, David “Alabanimal” Green, with guest appearances by percussionist James Cunningham, who’s worked with both men, and Jared Dover, who adds backing vocals. The two front men trade off on the mike throughout.
This collection of eight originals and two covers was recorded in Memphis and produced by Jensen. It kicks off with the medium-paced shuffle, “Glad to Be,” which rejoices about the time – both good and bad – that they spent working on Beale Street, where there “was no tomorrow.” Jensen’s vocals are light and warm, offset by a brief, but blazing mid-tune harp solo.
Ruffino’s bass introduces “We Got a Thing Going On,” a true-blues burner with Brandon in charge. It’s a slower tempo shuffle in which his tasty harp runs and single-note guitar runs fuse with Al Green-style Memphis R&B. The sound shifts to a lazy Delta feel with “Souls in the Water,” an open invitation with autobiographical overtones that invites listener to join the musicians as they float down the Mississippi.
The Southern rocker “Back to Tennessee” sings praise of the Volunteer State, where the singer finds solace after his lady’s left for good, while “Leave My Body” is an interesting, minor-keyed stop-time number delivered from the prospective of someone who wants folks to place worldly items near him in case he’s dead, but not really gone.
The sound brightens dramatically for “See About Me,” a sweet invitation for a lady to come along for a ride, before the band cleverly reinvents Tom Waits’ “Come on Up to the House.” Double lead lines are featured on harp and guitar for “You Don’t Love Me” before Brandon takes charge for a fiery cover of Little Walter Jacobs’ “Watch Yourself.” The acoustic “I’m Going to Mexico” brings the action to close with Jensen ready to seek out a medicine man after all else has failed.
Available through most major retailers, Tennessee Redemption is a pleaser throughout.