Traditional – styled in the now.
It is often said that the only constant in life is change. Of course, this could apply to everything, including music, where fashions and tastes change, what was popular yesterday is sneered at today as artists forever strive to make their mark with something ‘different’. Sometimes, one longs for tradition, a kind of comfort in something tried and trusted, that you know is going to be beautiful. The self-titled album from Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno is just that, an ‘old soul roots’ album for our times and beautiful it is, too.
Inspired by Appalachian string band music, bluegrass and classic country, this is an album packed with great songs, mostly in a classic style, with plenty of pedal steel guitar, fiddle and banjo in support. Barely out of college, Leva and Calcagno have written or co-written all of the songs and created a record full of love and hope, with a maturity which should be beyond their years. Opener ‘Will You’ starts the classic country session with all the usual and required ingredients, including a lyric all about regret and secrets and confession – “How can I tell you that I was untrue….Will you still love me when I tear your heart away?” The classic country continues with ‘Leaving On Our Minds’, with lashings of steel, fiddle and piano, asking how love in separation can “stand the test of time, when we have to walk that line”.
Banjo tips up for the first time for ‘On The Line’, the contemplative observations of the minutiae of living a long distance relationship – “Why don’t you tell me about your day? What time did you get up, when did you go along your way?”, “Oh we’re talking about our day, so everything is fine?” Or is it? ‘Biding All My Time’ offers up more old-time traditional fare, even opening with “I’ve been drinking too much without you”. There is nothing parody here, though, just another example of creating something from a time-honoured base and making it fresh and relevant and providing an upbeat close – “Heartbreak will be a memory and you will be reality/For once I won’t be biding all my time.”
Just to make the point that classic style doesn’t quite get all its own way across the entire album, there are a couple of excellent contemporary feel tracks. ‘Love and Chains’ features a Wurlitzer piano alongside pedal steel, where the warmth of a fading sun can almost be felt as Leva sings “Don’t talk about love and chains/Let’s not talk about the plans we made/Why don’t we just sit and watch the sunlight fade?” as we stay right here in the present. ‘You Don’t See Me’ tells tale of how someone who was close in the past has become a stranger in time – “I wonder if you recognise me, I know I cut my hair/But we both know you’re just pretending that you don’t see me and you don’t care.” We’ve all been there….
There is room for some foot tappin’ on ‘On Account of You’ with busy working fiddle and banjo, and ‘My Teardrops Say’ is more classic country, a song that could have sung by any of the great country divas during the past 50 years – “Oh my teardrops say that I love you/How I long to hear your teardrops too.” Yes, a tad schmaltzy, but that is kind of the point.
This is a particularly good album, a great collection of ‘old soul roots’ music, with a lyrical warmth and a high standard of musicianship. Obviously, it is far too early in the calendar to be talking about album of the year status, but if there are many better albums released in 2021, we all have a lot to look forward to.