Susan Santos – Sonora | Album Review

Susan Santos – Sonora

TWH Records

8 songs – 36 minutes

Sonora is Susan Santos’s sixth album, and her first since 2019’s No U Turn (favourably reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine issue 13-28). On her new release, Santos continues to mine the same reliable guitar-driven blues-rock vein as evidenced on No U Turn.  The Spanish singer/guitarist/songwriter is a serious talent, with a soaring, sensual voice, a sophisticated, impressive guitar technique, and a knack for writing timeless blues-rock songs.

Recorded at Black Betty Studios in Madrid, Spain, Sonora was produced by José Mortes and Santos. Together they captured a vividly raucous series of performances from Santos and her band. The band comprises Juli El Lento on drums (other than on “So Long”, where Mario Carrión takes over the stool) and David Salvador on bass. Santos provides lead and backing vocals, together with electric, baritone, and acoustic guitars, banjo, and theremin.

The album’s title may reference the desert located in northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States. This would be consistent with the lyrics that return repeatedly to the desert and to desert people. The songs tell stories ranging from survival, thirst, outlaws, escape, and freedom against a backdrop of scorpions, lizards, and roadrunners.

The songs are well-constructed, often displaying a refined use of dynamics, as in the changes of pace and color in tracks like “Let It Ride” or “What I Want” and recalling the great Tom Petty in the irresistible simplicity of tracks like “So Long”.

Santos is a seriously badass guitarist, and she lays down a series of impressive solos, which often take the listener in an unexpected but always entertaining direction, from the Hendrix-inspired freak-out of “Let It Ride” to the rockabilly drive of “Voodoo Wheels” or from the reverb-laden slide and psychedelic fuzz of “Snakebite” to the country-tinged lead that precedes the classic rock solo of “Hot Rod Lady” and the pop perfection of “So Long”.

The majority of the tracks are powered by overdriven guitar riffs, although the gentler, swinging “Have Mercy” is actually one of the album’s highlights (with another belting guitar solo).

It’s a relatively short album, but every track packs a powerful punch. There are no fillers here. It’s the kind of album that should be playing at full volume as you drive across a desert in a convertible with your favourite adventure companion in the passenger seat.

Sonora sits squarely in the blues-rock genre. There are no standard 12 bar blues here, and the songs are played with attitude and aggression. If your tastes extend to the likes of ZZ Top, The Black Crowes or early Deep Purple, or if you like hearing guitar-driven blues-rock songs played with grit and fervor, you will find a lot to enjoy on this album.

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