Former secret agent-turned-rocker Susan Yasinski is back with another exceptionally-polished EP on Acme Brothers Records.
Better known as the guitar-slinging leader of beach band Susan & The Surftones, New York-born Yasinski latched on to music during her tweens in the 1960s. She quickly mastered songs by Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and other early rock ‘n’ rollers after taking up her six-string, and continued playing in bar bands while attending Boston College.
Those rebellious tendencies carried over into adulthood: Surftone gigged at night while working for the FBI during the day—and ultimately traded her sidearm and badge when pressed to choose between law enforcement and music.
Susan released several well-regarded ocean-faring albums with all-girl group The Surftones in the 1990s (Without a Word, Thunderbeach, Bitchin’) before relocating to Portland, Oregon at the turn of the century. After settling in there, Surftone teamed with alt-rock ace producer Steve Kravac (Bad Religion, Blink-182, MXPX) on a string of slick solo albums Shore (2011), Too Far (2013), and Reckoning (2014).
But Surftone’s been more focused on EPs and downloads in recent years. She contributed key tracks to surf-punk compilations like Out of the Garage and Gnarly Wave, made her vocal debut on the digital single “Little Bit Lied To” in 2016, and revisited Link Wray’s iconic instrumental “Rumble” on The Magician.
Susan’s latest extended play, 2nd to One, finds the half-pipe guitar heroine leaning more turf than surf. Rather than serve up another Dick Dale / Ventures-inspired summer soundtrack, Yasinski takes a risk and steps inland for a batch of earnest Elvis covers whose jangly guitars and swaggering vocals salute rock pioneers like Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Surftone’s a master of effervescent, oceanic guitar tones, but here she’s less concerned with catching waves than with date nights, dancehalls and ditties about break-ups and make-ups. 2nd to One swaps woodies and surf wax for deuce coupes and fuzzy dice, and the result is a rollicking, seven-selection salute to not only Presley, but also to groundbreaking labels like Sun Records (Memphis) and Chess / Checker Records (Chicago) and their now-legendary catalogs.
The Brent Rodgers-produced disc also spotlights Surftone’s progess as a vocalist: She took some singing lessons with vocal coach Darlene Koldenhaven (who plays hot honky-tonk piano on “One-Sided Love Affair”). Susan’s breathy verses play well against the bright, reverb ‘n’ chorus-stepped guitars of the Bill Monroe-written “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and her infections and vibrato stand out on an updated version of the Rosemarie McCoy / Charles Singleton gem “Trying to Get to You.” Doc Pomus’ miss-you-melody “A Mess of Blues” is resuscitated to terrific effect, and Elvis hit “Heartbreak Hotel” is given a feisty, female-fronted makeover.
But Yasinski’s newfound confidence on the mic doesn’t mean she skimps on six-string acrobatics. Surftone channels Chuck Berry, Scotty and, Chet Atkins on instrumental zingers “Mystery Train” and “Reconsider Baby,” veering from slinky, locomotive licks (“Train”) to mirthful exchanges between bass-y guitar notes and bright, bendy leads (“Reconsider”).
In addition to guitar and vocals, Surftone handles bass duties (and some stick work) throughout. Drummer Brian Foxworth keeps time on all tracks save “Trying to Get to You,” which sees old pal Kravac sitting in on the kit.
2nd to One contains more country-fried “chicken pickin’” than wah-wah watered guitar, but Yasinski nonetheless capitalizes on the landlocked nature of the material by really slipping into character and taking ownership of the rootsy R&B sounds. Sure, the style is very vintage and the approach very retro—but Surftone’s respectful re-imaginings successfully capture the youthful bliss of the era of poodle skirts and pompadours. These songs were written (and recorded by Elvis) over a half-century ago, but Susan makes ‘em sound frisky and fresh as ever.