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Heard Lately #27: Tennessee Redemption Shows How Low-Key Unlocks Every Door

Haiku of contrition:

Brandon Santini
And Jeff Jensen. Together.
Lived up to my dreams.

Artist: Tennessee Redemption
Album: Tennessee Redemption
Release date: September 2019

Cover of Tennessee Redemption album.
Cover of Tennessee Redemption album.

The deal. Albums can break your heart. Even ones you haven’t heard yet. Sometimes you want so much from a new release — you’re just so excited — that it’s tough for the artist to deliver on the expectations. I didn’t stop to consider this before I listened to Tennessee Redemption’s self-titled debut. Tennessee Redemption is harmonica-ist/singer Brandon Santini and Americana stalwart guitarist Jeff Jensen. I’m a huge Santini fan so I was psyched to see him working with Jensen. And I’m happy to report this is a relaxing, low-key album of roots-driven rock and blues that isn’t what I was expecting, but that, like Pip, lived up to my great expectations.

Relaxing and low-key might not sound super thrilling, but in these weird times, I appreciated Tennessee Redemption’s energy, which is about solid songs, heart-felt performances and, just to be reductive, connecting to what feels like simpler times. Santini’s vocals and harmonica have an intensity and seriousness, but are devoid of anger. Jensen’s vocal stylings are a bit sweeter, while his guitar playing is purely about the song. Together, it create a feeling of warmth and generosity, like two old friends connecting on stage, each knowing the other’s moves and trying to create a space for the other to execute.

So what does that sound like? On “Souls in the Water,” it’s a slow-jamming, zero gravity bounce of a groove, Santini’s harmonica floating through it all, like a piece of space debris. His rich voice is reassuring and Jensen’s guitar is right there with him, the three elements all playing off of each other. It’s a gentle track, but not a boring one. “You Don’t Love Me,” featuring Jensen on lead vocals, has a funky, rhythm and blues vibe. Jensen’s voice is gigantic, taking up much of the tune’s air, but Santini’s harmonica finds small holes from which to peek out. “Watch Yourself” might be the heaviest track on the album, with its metronome of a drum beat and blasts of guitar and harmonica. Santini handles lead vocals here and while it’s a Little Walter cover, the band finds a very rock-and-roll take on a blues tune, another tribute to the energy they bring to every track.

Straight talk. There’s something about artists who know how to collaborate. Santini and Jensen aren’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with each other. There’s no deference. But there’s also no upstaging. There aren’t any Santini solo tracks versus Jensen solo tracks. The two constantly interact across ten strong songs. They push each other and they challenge each other, but they don’t sabotage. And at this point, it’s probably a nice idea to mention their wonderful backing band (Timo Arthur on guitar, Bill Ruffino on bass, and David Green on drums) who keep up with the two leads, providing support and contrast, but mostly placing Santini and Jensen in a strong position to do their own thing. Together.

The confession. I pitched this to an outlet but never heard back and I was bummed because I was so excited about this album. And, as long as we’re in the confessional, I’m generally excited about Santini, a very talented blues artist who, to my mind, isn’t getting his full due. I hope this album found, and continues to find, its audience, because this is very cool.

Closing arguments. Tennessee Redemption is on tour and I hope they make their way up to New York City at some point. Because as good as the album is, watching lots of YouTube clips, as you yourself can, the band is only getting tighter. So not to dismiss the current work by looking ahead, I think everyone should go back, check out this debut, and then anxiously and excitedly wait for the follow-up. Because this band is only going to get better. I was expecting more of a blues album but they’ve discovered a bluesy formula that’s given me the record I didn’t even realize I wanted.

The pile

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So much amazing music comes out all of the time. I review what I can as quickly as I can, working my physical and digital piles as efficiently as possible, but things fall between the cracks. Rather than giving up on things that are a little past their prime, contemporary-review-standards-wise, I’m going back for the overflow that deserves to be heard — even if it’s a little late.

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