Redemption (ri-demp-shuh n): can mean atonement, deliverance, or repurchase. Tennessee Redemption is the name of the band and debut album from a couple of modern day Beale Streeters who are turning the blues world on its collective ear.
Forged in the fires of Memphis, the band Tennessee Redemption is made up of Brandon Santini (harmonica, vox); Jeff Jensen (guitar, vox); Timo Arthur (guitar); Bill Ruffino (bass); and David Green (drums). Not one of these artists is a Memphis native, but all, at least in part, have made their bones playing the clubs of Beale Street.
They’ve also played together for many years in various incarnations. The bonds of friendship, combined with their respective love of blues, soul, and gospel music have created what they are today.
The band’s eponymous debut album hits the streets on Friday, September 13th via Endless Blues Records. Not only a Friday the 13th, but under the influence of a full moon, the date is significant in the heralding of an album that is truly magical. From the very first track, “Glad to Be,” we get a taste of the genre-crossing music that we’ll enjoy for the rest of the release. The song has an Americana feel, gilded with electric guitar, vocals that build from subdued to rafter shaking, and a harmonica solo that leaves no doubt why Santini is considered one of the top harpoon men on the scene. The lyrics are biographical, speaking to their combined history in Bluff City, but also of their breakout into what has become an internationally acknowledged tour-de-force.
“We Got a Thing Going On,” begins with the uber-funky sound of Ruffino’s bass, and kicks into gear backed with 70s soul guitar, and fronted by a powerhouse vocal delivery. Eight of the ten tracks on Tennessee Redemption are written or co-written by Santini and Jensen, showcasing them not only as high octane performers but creative lyricists. “Souls in the Water,” has a swampy, gospel feel paying homage to the Mississippi River and its beckoning siren song. The vocal harmonies are quite impressive on this one.
Speaking of impressive, the talents of both Jensen and Santini are showcased thoroughly throughout Tennessee Redemption. Jensen, with his ultra-high intensity guitar playing mixes well with Santini’s harmonica prowess. Both men are steeped in traditional blues, but neither are afraid to take that sound to the next level, making it their own.
The band is not afraid to offer up their softer side either. “Back to Tennessee,” is a ballad that starts off comfy, and somewhat delicate, but builds nicely into a southern rock anthem. “Leave My Body,” has a dark, almost sinister sound. This Jensen penned song features some very cool marching band type drumming courtesy of Green, which conjures images of a civil war infantry marching into the unknown. Combined with Jensen’s haunting guitar, and Santini’s backing harp, this one has our short hairs standing up.
The more upbeat, groovy feeling “See About Me,” has a familiar sound. Maybe it’s memories of the radio blasting on a summer road trip, but whatever it is, it’s comforting rock n roll that we remember from younger days. “Come On Up To the House,” is the first of two covers on Tennessee Redemption. The band’s re-imagining of Tom Waits’ gospel hit is welcoming and shows that Memphis’ influence on the guys not only comes from the bars on Beale, but from the city’s deep-seated religious history as well.
The other cover on this spectacular release is “Watch Yourself.” This Little Walter classic, originally titled “You’d Better Watch Yourself,” was a #8 Billboard hit on the Checker label 65 years ago. Tennessee Redemption breathe new life into it with their rockin’, overblown take. Santini adds depth to the vocals and channels the late, great Marion Jacobs’ harp like few others could ever do.
Tennessee Redemption winds up with “I’m Going to Mexico.” This laid back, acoustic track is the perfect palate cleanser, and adds yet another dimension to the band’s cornucopia of sound.
The one single thread that weaves through all the music on this album, is that there isn’t one. There are no boxes, no boundaries, no holds barred, or turns unstoned. This is blues music, and roots music, and soul music, and gospel music, and music to stir the soul from every direction. This Friday the 13th, celebrate your good luck, atone for whatever perceived sins you may have, dance naked under the full moon if you want, but do it to the soundtrack of Tennessee Redemption.