Blending a great voice with good songs is the best way to make a great album – like this one.
RISO is Matt Rolland and Rebekah Sandoval Rolland. They describe this album as “a document of the ebb and flow of the last decade of their lives as students, musicians, and, more recently, parents.” This is a new turn from their previous work with Americana band Run Boy Run which they have featured over the last decade or so.
Opening song ‘Closer’ drifts along on dreamy guitar and harmony vocals until the very end when a French Horn pops out, adding a whole new texture. ‘Caterpillar Prince’ is a bluegrass based Mandolin (although no mandolin player is credited it appears to be Matt Rolland) and fiddle duel. The mood set by ‘Closer’ returns for ‘Penny Brown’ with a Cello setting a wistful tone to the music. The lightly brushed drums make this a more upbeat tune, and there’s a sense that it could have been a far longer song when it winds down after barely three minutes.
The simple ballad ‘Doesn’t Stand To Reason’ and features a gorgeous string arrangement courtesy of Kaitlyn Raitz and Ben Plotnick. The single voice on this song shows Rebekah to be an outstanding singer, with one of those clear, cut glass voices that can make any song an event. ‘Always Running’ is a much darker song with an ominous almost Celtic sound. Ryan David Green’s electric guitar adds some sharp angular lines to make this an altogether less comfortable piece.
Following this with another mandolin and violin driven instrumental, ‘In The Maze’ pulls the mood back to the light, and makes the point that the sequencing on this album was clearly subject to a lot of thought. Nearly the only complaint about the whole album would be that ‘In The Maze’ is faded at four and a half minutes rather than having a proper conclusion. They call ‘Geometric Slide’ “wistful” and that is a good description. With a voice like Rebekah Sandoval Rolland’s and fiddle and Mandolin featured so prominently, Alison Krauss comparison is bound to come up. RISO rise above this and while some of the songs, particularly in the latter half of the album sit in the same world as Krauss, they all stand up to the comparison very well. The title song has hit single written all over it, if these things still mattered, and is likely to show up on radio and playlists everywhere soon.
They have saved the best until last. A quite magical version of ‘You’ll Never Be the Sun’, which you may know from Dolores Keane or the ‘Trio 2‘ album from Parton, Harris and Ronstadt. Here it has a fifties feel with handclaps and tremolo guitar. Look out for an equally good acoustic version from RISO on You Tube.
The Rollands say that “RISO is rooted in the acoustic soundscapes of their respective childhoods, and elevated by sharp and complementary musical instincts.” There are albums where the end result is clearly the product of far more than the music making process, embodying the relationship between the musicians and their music, and life. ‘New Eyes’ is one of these and in making it RISO have added another entry to the end of year best of lists.