As evidenced by her authoritative drawl and smart sexuality, it is immediately clear Suzanne Santos is no damsel in distress.
Often times the theme and instrumental echo of an Americana album is easy to distinguish, the melody marries the message, but on 3, Suzanne Santos and Ben Jaffe bounce around a brand of country with a welcomed identity crisis; It’s both sad and sexy, with murmurs of rock n’ roll, a sharp wit and an unexpected pop prowess.
HoneyHoney doesn’t just shine in their ability to bleed genres, but their rebellion against a sweet-coupled aesthetic. As evidenced by her authoritative drawl and smart sexuality, it is immediately clear Suzanne Santos is no damsel in distress. On standout single, “You and I” she laments on past transgressions in love through the backdrop of a moody banjo, “If this was then now, honey / I wouldn’t be your friend / I would jerk you off and sell you out,” until Jaffe meets her in the chorus where they shift to a graceful harmony and ode to renewed love.
This seesaw of mood and melody continues throughout the record. “Big Man” possibly the catchiest and most dynamic track on 3, sings like an upbeat eulogy, a chorus so catchy it’s easy to forget the morbidity of the storyline, haunted and uplifted by string solos, subtle hand claps and Santos’s howling range.
And while this record deserves applause for its production, Santos and Jaffe should also be recognized for the poetry that exists here. Santos writes with a whip, her crass language is both biting and earnest, and while love isn’t a new topic, her commentary on it never comes off timid or tired. There’s a confusion and lovelorn fatigue felt throughout 3. Anyone who has been bludgeoned and stripped down by romance can relate to the emotional fatigue in “Burned Me Out” as Santos sings “ I guess I held on too tight / I broke my fingers on your floor that night / I lost my faith in my own breath / Who knew that love could feel like death.”
“Marry Rich, and “God of Love” also speak to the existential understanding sought throughout 3, the pair does a good job of conveying a craved experience with shamelessness, lyrics brought to life by bluesy guitar parts, pedal steel, piano and an orchestral elegance.
3’s layered sound is complimented by producer, Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson/Chris Stapleton), catalyst to many of the great genre-bending records in recent years. Many of the roots-tinged artists he’s worked with have received acclaim for their instrumental fusion, but most importantly their ability to merge contrasting crowds, a highlight of the work done here.
This is especially important with the divide in country music audiences. There’s the top 40 radio music listener, who knows every Luke Bryan hit, then there are the niche fans of indie Americana, who religiously attend the Newport Folk Festival, who won’t admit they once loved the Lumineers almost as much as they loved Mumford & Sons, bands that have become the Nickelback of the neo-folk movement.
In inception each sound lends to the other, but in conversation people have to make a distinction when they talk about “country” music. Is it Toby Keith country or Robert Ellis country? On 3, Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe invite both sets of listeners into the same room.