Heard Lately #3: Brandon Santini-The Longshot review
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.
Haiku of contrition:
He has a strong sense of self.
Longshot is true north.
The deal. Blues rock is a tougher genre than it might seem. There’s a sweet-spot that allows the music to rock, while also sounding familiarly bluesy. If an album drifts too far into one of those genres, the entire enterprise collapses. Or at least it’s less of an enjoyable listen. Singer/harmonica player Brandon Santini’s The Longshot perfectly walks that highwire of a blues rock line. The album rocks, but there are also some nice, authentic blues touches.
It might help that Santini isn’t a guitarist. Anecdotally, it seems a lot of blues rock albums go sideways when they’re led by guitarists, who, not exclusively, but too often, get lost in the shredding. The thing about Santini is he has chops. He’s a fluent, fluid harmonica player. He’s not giving you the Dylan-esque wheeze into a harp; he’s constructing horn-like melodies. He’s also a great singer, with a voice like a gritty Robert Palmer.
One of the album’s stronger tracks is “Beggin’ Baby,” which demonstrates how well Santini balances his influences. It features his sexy vocals over a huge guitar sound you notice, but that doesn’t dominate the song. The groove moves faster than a traditional blues and Greg Gumpel lays down a raw slide guitar solo before Santini and his harmonica step in. It’s not a traditional blues song. Not at all. But the blues influences are present, just given to us through the lens of rock.
Santini wrote or co-wrote just about every song on the album and the songwriting is strong across the record. However, the album’s lone cover, “Evil (Is Going On),” made famous by Howlin’ Wolf, shows Santini’s ability to fuse blues and rock. Santini mellows the iconic blues song with congas and electric piano. He distorts his voice to re-create Wolf’s natural distortion, but mostly just lays the song back. It’s bold to take on the Wolf, and bolder still to take on one of his signature songs, but the result is interesting and gives Santini the chance to show a different side of himself.
Straight talk. This is a solid album. The only thing I might change is song length. Just about every track checks in at over four minutes. I’m a firm believer that songs shouldn’t go more than three and a half minutes, tops. However, none of the songs ramble or feel too long, so I’m not sure it’s a fair comment.
The confession. I have no idea what happened here. I enjoyed this CD from the moment it came. I played it a lot. I think I just got used to it and forgot to review it. Either that, or it just got lost in my pile.
Closing arguments. This is a great album because of Santini’s natural presence. He seems to have a firm handle on his sound which gives the album a cohesiveness and internal logic. He’s obviously a huge fan of the blues, but he’s not afraid to fold in his rock influences. The album works, though, because of his internal compass, which lets him move between styles, and also combine them, without losing himself or the listener.