Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno- Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno review

Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno
Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno
Free Dirt Records

Thirty seconds in, I was hooked; I knew I was going to love this album, the first from Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno as a self-named duo although Calcagno was prominently featured on Leva’s previous recording, Time Is Everything; as an aside, I notice on the iTunes that the album is now billed as ‘featuring Riley Calcagno.’

Bringing to mind the likes of Pharis and Jason Romero, which brings to mind Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (“You Don’t See Me,”) Leva and Calcagno are formidable, and their songs—written individually and co-written—are every bit as strong. Here’s what will get me in trouble: as much as I adore Gillian Welch, I think Leva is the stronger vocalist, every bit as emotive—transcending time and place—as Welch but with a just a sliver more ‘oomph;’ a dreamy voice, fully confident, and reminiscent of the approach taken by Rachel Brooke and Zoe Muth; “Good and Gone” and “Hallowed Hearts” are indicative of this.

When she sings, within “On the Line,” Making believe you’re telling me everything, playing the fool and playing the game, taking a chance putting it all on the line, but we’re talking about our day so everything is fine,” leva is not only carrying a lonesome tune, she is setting us up for the final revelation: “But I just can’t help but think that you’re off finding someone new.”

Augmenting these gentle, moving songs is a core band comprised of Trey Boudreaux (bass,) Chris Stafford (pedal steel,) Sam Fribush (piano and Wurlitzer,) and Matty Meyer (drums.) Leva adds guitar, while Calcagno contributes guitar, fiddle, banjo, and harmony vocals; he also shares lead vocals on “Love and Chains.”

Old-time folk meets classic country on numbers like the exquisite “Biding All My Time,” one of the album’s premier numbers. “I’ve been drinking too much without you, the lonely troubled kind. I’ve been staying up too late without you, Darling I’ve been biding all my time;” that’ll do for these modern, pandemic times.

They cut loose a bit for “On Account of You,” stepping lively on an old-timey number fit for dancing and stomping, with the opening “Will You” a burning ember of desire. “My Teardrops Say” could have fit on an Eddy Arnold release. Diversity is a strength, with the Appalachian traditions binding the eleven tracks.

A memorable, charming, and bright recording, one suspects Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno will find its way to many year-end ‘best of’ lists, mine included. They more than build a bridge toward traditional, old-time stringband music; Leva, Calcagno, and their colleagues establish a tangible connection embracing advances of modern recording with contemporary ears and the passion and realism of the past.

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