Viv & Riley “Imaginary People”

Free Dirt Records, 2023

Viv & Riley sing sweet songs of reflection from the front seat.

Album artwork for Viv & Riley's 'Imaginary People'The latest album, ‘Imaginary People,’ by Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno—now going by Viv and Riley—is an easygoing set of folk-pop reflections, warm as a long, slow drive in late September sun. The sound is sweet and the mood evocative as the songs take various back roads to the past.  

In the opening track, Viv takes a sentimental journey back to ‘Kygers Hill,’ her childhood home. It sounds sprightly, but there’s an ache. Autumn looms on the horizon. Wild strawberries in the Blue Ridge Mountains: “Cresting over Kygers Hill / While late summer moves through the fields.” Nostalgia saturates the album. Bleached sunlight and faded scrapbooks. It’s followed by another past-life haunt, ‘Sauvie Island,’ with its “peeling paint off concrete.” The scenery flickering with the silhouettes of former selves. It’s golden-hour music. Pretty but sad. Later on, in the dreamy torch reflection ‘Flashing Lights,‘ Viv sings, “It feels like a lifetime since I felt free / When we stayed out all night / Danced underneath the moonlight/ Back when you fell in love with me

The journey is filled with glimpses and regrets; lingering looks in the rearview mirror, considering what might have been to bring us here; travelling as we are and with whom we are in this moment. Perhaps the most stirring song is the title track— An Appalachian rhythmic hymn of self-examination. “These days all I can put on are personalities.” Which reminds us our most turbulent relationship is the one with ourselves.

The album sounds dreamy and sun-dappled, thanks in part to the bright rich production from Alex Bingham of Hiss Golden Messenger, but also to each song’s bittersweet tone. Brewing a mix of Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Golden Hour‘ and the blue mountain gloom of the best Welch and Rawlings. Things conclude on the traditional, ‘The Blackest Crow,‘ where two lovers make promises to each other as the lights go out, “If ever I prove false to you/ The rugged seas shall burn

It’s beautiful, coloured with dying summer light. A happy-sad success.


About Tom Harding 4 Articles
A writer with a love of all things country, folk, jazz and blues. By night I'm a poet with two published poetry books from Palewell Press, latest available now, "Afternoon Music."
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