SUZANNE SANTO, “Yard Sale” (Soundly Music):3½
Now based in Austin, the former Angeleno follows her 2017 solo debut “Ruby Red” with this compelling reward for fans waiting for her to take a break from playing in Hozier’s band. Centered around her mercurial, lightly raspy contralto, it weaves together Americana, rock, soul and R&B with guest support from fellow Austinites Gary Clark Jr. and Shakey Graves. Santo’s songs are bracing in the way a friend’s late-night confidences can be, tallying lessons learned, wonders discovered and relationships lost. “It gets so hard to see/ When my history’s standing in front of me,” she confesses on hooky single “Mercy.” Over fingerpicked guitar during the octave-spanning “Save for Love,” she counsels, “Hold yourself accountable/ Give that soul deep within you a voice like a parable.” Wise advice.
DIVINE HORSEMEN, “Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix” (In the Red): 3
The lauded survivors of LA’s post-punk ’80s scene stay true to their eclectic legacy on their first collection of new material in 33 years. Chris Desjardins and Julie Christensen’s yin-yang vocal dynamic sets the tone, whether they’re swapping trenchant lines (“Livin’ in anticipation of things goin’ wrong/ It hasn’t happened yet but it won’t be long” from Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee’s “Any Day Now”), turning tender (their own “Barefoot in the Streets”) or psychedelic (Jefferson Airplane’s “Ice Cream Phoenix”) or throwing down jaunty challenges (Charley Cuva and Robert Downey Sr.’s resurrected “Can’t You See?”). The highlight’s Patti Smith and Ivan Kral’s “25th Floor,” recharged by guitarist Peter Andrus’ meaty riffs, powerhouse X drummer DJ Bonebrake and bassist Bobby Permanent.
SOUTHERN AVENUE, “Be the Love You Want”
(Renew Records/BMG): 3
A welcome return from the eclectic Memphis soul quintet. Produced by Los Lobos keyboardist/saxophonist Steve Berlin, the 12-track set benefits from smart, horn-buttoned arrangements and punches harder than 2019’s “Keep On” as it delivers stirring messages of uplift and affirmation composed mostly by dynamic frontwoman Tierinii Jackson and guitarist Ori Naftaly. Highlights include the harmony-bolstered anthems “Push Now” and “Move On,” the urgently funky “Move into the Light,” and swaying retro-tinged ballad “Fences.”
OPIUM MOON, “Night + Day” (Six Degrees): 3½
The transnational, Westside-based ensemble, who won a Grammy in 2019 for its self-titled debut album, return with a double set of sensual, masterfully performed instrumentals exploring the duality of life and belief. Highlights include “When Their Wings,” a hypnotic dance between Lili Haydn’s violin, Itai Disraeli’s bass, Hamid Saeidi’s santoor and M.B. Gordy’s frame drum; “Opium Moon: Day,” which quotes Sufi poet Hafiz’s “She Responded” (an appropriate choice for a strife-filled age); the serpentine “Feast of Sevens;” and “Dream,” an invitation to dance audiences will likely accept with pleasure.