Occasionally a distinct talent comes roaring out from under the Americana umbrella to stake a claim on some new territory, as Suzanne Santo of the duo HoneyHoney does with her solo debut. Producer/guitarist Butch Walker melts the roots-folk template to create a moody, evocative world of sound that couches Santo’s songs in darkness without calling attention to itself. “Handshake” establishes the tone of the record with its eerie synth, tumbling drums and echo-laden vocals. When she reaches for the high notes, Santo brings to mind the muscular wail of Brandi Carlile. Elsewhere, she suggests the tonal territory of Susan Tedeschi, even Adele.
But this is strictly grown-up stuff. On “The Wrong Man,” “Love Fucked Up” and “Blood on Your Knees,” there is zero subtlety as Santo sings of violence, drinking, pain, murder and blood. The dark, sometimes dissonant atmosphere of the music absolutely serves the song, and within that darkness lies an unnerving beauty.
“Best out of Me” is a relatively conventional waltz with straightforward guitar, drums and piano. With swelling strings that bloom after the chorus, Santo’s reverb-wrapped voice brings to mind Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. Tragically, the Irish singer died on Monday, giving the song an unintended elegiac feel.
Suzanne Santo plays the Top Hat Fri., Jan. 19, at 9 PM. $12.