Born in Mexico, raised in Texas and currently residing in Nashville Mando Saenz is therefore not unexpectedly a singer/songwriter in the roots Americana arena. His third album was produced by Mark Nevers in his home Beech House studio and has a powerful and punchy sound. This is Saenz's third album. I had a fondness for his debut Watertown some time back and this latest is more confident and confidential.
The seasoned players who make this sound so good include guitarists Jedd Hughes and Kenny Vaughn and the inclusion of these two is enough to warrant investigation on my part. Veteran Steelie Pete Finney also adds his skill to the sound on occasion. Though Saenz wrote all the songs on his debut he has since began writing collaborations on a number of tracks. Here he writes with Kim Richey, who he had previously written with for his last album. Shelly Colvin and Wade Bowen are among the other writers involved though seven of the 12 songs are solo compositions.
The album opens with Breakaway Speed a Richey co-write and she joins him on the song's choruses. Things getting a little more stripped back on the opening of Battle Scar before the band kicks in with a twangy riff fuelled song of relationships. They Don't Make 'Em Like You Anymore is a sadder reflection of loss and he is joined again by a female harmony vocal that enhances the songs but who it is uncredited on the preview copy. Pocket Change is the songs from which the album title is extracted "Where's my Studebaker, I'm nobody's pocket change". It motors along like the car of the title and is again bolstered by some fine guitar playing, as is most of the album. Other songs follow a similar path, Nobody is a more stripped back song full of atmosphere and sombre cello. Colorado has a sense of menace while Smiles At The Door closes out the album on a song of the duality that is faced in some relationships with its "tears on the pillow, smiles at the door". Bitter sweet reflections that show a writer capable of understanding and conviction.
The rest of the songs follow on down that rocky roots strewn road and while the meaning of some of the songs may not be immediately clear the sound is captivating. Saenz has an agreeable tenor that slides around the songs and often he's joined by a second voice to good effect. The overall album, soundwise, sits somewhere between the last two albums. Studebaker is a grower and the marks Mando Saenz as a welcome addition to Nashville's non-Music Row writing community. He has delivered an album that will enhance his reputation.