Suzanne Santo makes a welcome return with her sophomore album, Yard Sale, which is set for release on August 27.
Back in May 2020, when we last spoke to Suzanne Santo, the country was in lockdown and she was almost done with recording her new album. We discussed at the time, that she had accumulated a great deal of life experience since she had written Ruby Red. She’d been in love, broken up, and toured the world with Hozier. She mentioned that given the breadth of experiences she drew from to pen the songs on the new album, she was thinking about naming it Yard Sale.
Since that interview, Suzanne has upped sticks and moved from Los Angeles, her home for more than a decade, to Austin, TX where she’s found new love. In recent interviews, she has discussed the fact that, in the time since we spoke to her, a few additional songs were added to the album as well as there being some fine-tuning of what was already there. The name she was considering last May, however, did stick and this week Yard Sale will be released to the public.
Production duties on this album were handled by John Spiker and Suzanne herself, along with Paul Doyle (whom you may have seen drumming for Suzanne as a member of her live band) for four of the tracks. This production team has, in concert, overseen an album that is a definite, albeit subtle, evolution of Suzanne’s sound.
Ruby Red took the approach of putting Santo’s vocals squarely front and center, supporting her great songwriting with reasonably traditional instrumentation, a formula that produced great results. For Yard Sale, however, Suzanne and her production team have incorporated some really interesting artistic choices in many of the songs. This is, without doubt, a balancing act, because whilst (in our mind) a great artist should constantly be evolving and exploring new ground, there is definitely a risk that if you move too far away from what people know you for, you may alienate them.
Happily, in the case of Yard Sale, it feels like every creative choice has been made with the sole purpose of elevating the song and it has been done masterfully. There are examples of this all over the album, be it the spectacular gospel harmonies in the opening track “Over and Over,” the dirty broken up guitar swells that contrast beautifully with the clean acoustic verses of “Save for Love,” Paul Doyle’s foreboding grunts and growls on “Bad Beast,” Blaine Stark’s slide and Michael Uhler’s saw on “To No End” or the programmed drums during the chorus of “Afraid of Heights.”
It’s clear in listening to this album that Suzanne put in a huge amount of effort and had both the time and the confidence to really consider how she wanted to best present these new songs to her audience. Not only that, but she surrounded herself with people (be it her co-producers or some of the guest musicians on the album, including Ben Jaffe, Gary Clark Jr, Shakey Graves and the aforementioned Stark) who could help her help make that vision a reality.
From a songwriting and lyrical perspective, the album runs the gamut of the emotional spectrum (again harking back to the title Yard Sale). During our interview with Suzanne last year, she mentioned that she had penned songs both at home and during her time on the road with Hozier and you can hear the arc of experience clearly reflected in her writing.
Whilst there are some break-up songs on this album (“Idiot” being a particular stand-out) other songs like “Mercy” find her in a reflective mood, harking back to her childhood in Cleveland, the lessons she learned, and how that experience made her the person she is today. Both of these songs, lyrically, highlight what we consistently find most compelling about Santo’s writing. That is the raw honesty with which she writes and the willingness in her writing to always take her share of responsibility and highlight her own perceived shortcomings. For example, “Idiot” is a song that documents what sounds to be a particularly nasty break-up – one in which the other party sounds to have behaved pretty poorly. But the idiot she is referring to in the title is actually herself; herself for sticking around; herself for still being in love with that person despite how they were behaving………. Similarly, in “Mercy” she reflects: “Sometimes I don’t know how to be, How to shut my mouth how to let things breathe, And it gets so hard to see, with my history standing in front of me.”
This kind of writing makes you feel like you’ve snuck into somebody’s room and stolen a peek at their diary or journal where they document all their deepest hopes, fears, and insecurities. There are not many songwriters around today who have both the courage to put themselves out there and be totally vulnerable lyrically coupled with the ability to pair those lyrics with great melodies and spectacular vocals in the way Santo manages. The result is that she writes songs that hit home like an emotional sledgehammer.
Other stand-out songs “Save for Love” and “Since I’ve Had Your Love” handle the topic of love from different perspectives – the former reflecting on how important it is to choose a path of love to move towards healing and the latter speaking to how love can illuminate your life, transforming what may have become a monochrome existence into a technicolor experience.
Yard Sale is a record that feels like an exciting step forward for Suzanne. It’s full of contrast both musically and lyrically: highs and lows; dark and light; ups, downs, and in-betweens. Essentially, everything that makes up our day-to-day existence as human beings. She has mentioned in recent interviews that the life and musical experiences she accumulated in the time since she penned the songs for Ruby Red have built her confidence in her own abilities. This really shines through on Yard Sale as she manages to evocatively present whatever subject matter she’s dealing with in a way that is exciting to listen to and always very relatable to the listener. And, of course, the main medium via which all this is delivered into your ears and brain is that voice, which sounds as great as ever.
It’s undoubtedly been a strange eighteen months and it feels like, coming out of lockdown, we are in need of new music more than ever to shore up our shaky emotional foundations and provide some much-needed relief from the day-to-day grind. If you feel the same way, we’d strongly suggest you head over to Suzanne’s Yard and see what she has to offer:
Feeling crushed and confused after a brutal break-up and want to know you’re not the only one? Then head over to “Idiot” on the old workbench. It’s by the sombrero and the unused Piñata.
Reminiscing over being a kid scared to go get your football back from the crazy person’s yard four doors down and wondering if that experience is why you’re always on edge when you go to meet someone at their house for the first time? No problem – take a look at “Mercy” over there on the deckchair by the Minidisc player and the Gameboy with a missing button.
Want to shred in front of the mirror with a tennis racket? Well, there’s “Fall For That” in that corner, back there next to the Voodoo doll and the Fortune Cat with the waving paw…….
Whatever it is your looking for, we’re pretty sure Suzanne Santo’s Yard Sale will have you covered… Yard Sale is set for release on August 27 and you can preorder your copy here.