We Americana-ans can be a pretty dour bunch. We like our music sad and our lyrics sadder. And we like country, but not TOO much country. Throw in some folk, some indie, and someone who sings OK, just not TOO pretty. Also – we like hats, but not too many cowboy hats, please. Sometimes, though, what you really need, even if you don’t tell anyone, is a well-written, well-crafted collection of country songs that sound good either in your headphones or rolling down a dirt road in your Jeep. That’s where Monica Rizzio comes in with her latest, Sunshine Is Free. It’s a generally optimistic set of modern and classic country-style tunes.
The album kicks off with “Nothin’,” a celebration of useful loafing. Over a mid-tempo guitar and drum bed, Rizzio, in her butter-smooth voice, asks “I feel a little guilty when I wanna be lazy/Why’s it so hard to do nothing?” The title cut also takes pleasure in life’s little gifts. Backed by Tom Lombardo’s banjo, she encourages living on the cheap: “Sunshine is free/Music is too” (although my bank account might beg to differ on that last point).
Rizzio can work with more traditional country, too. “The Shire” is a honky-tonk ballad, complete with steel and strings, and it celebrates life in the mountains (of Massachusetts, that is). “Don’t Keep Me Up Waiting” is a fiddle-driven country waltz about an indecisive lover and a certain kind of independence: “Doin’ it my way/Like I’ve done it before.”
There are a few stabs at rock ‘n’ roll on the album. “Story of My New Year,” featuring Will Kimbrough on guitar, has an 80s sheen to it, with Rizzio looking ahead to flipping the calendar – “A revolution is done/The resolutions begun.” And “Little Bit of Truth” is a Petty-ish ode to late-night drives and honest introspection – as she puts it, “Seein’ the world through my broken point of view.”
Rizzio grew up in East Texas, lived in Cape Cod, and works in Nashville, contributing to that altered point of view, which is fully on display on the album’s most thoughtful song, “Sunday.” It’s a pensive ballad about a busted-up relationship of sorts. Rizzio grew up in the church, but she’s begun to fully examine the role it’s had in her life. As much as she enjoyed the music and fellowship of those Sundays (and Wednesdays, and probably other days), she began to see past the veneer – “How was I to know/It was all for show?” She’s grown up, and grown out of the less pleasant, more judgmental aspects of where her religion pushed her, finding a new kind of peace: “Every day is my brand new favorite Sunday.” Delivered in her gentle voice, even as difficult a topic as this goes down easy like Sunday morning.
Sunshine Is Free was produced by Michael Rinne, recorded by Dylan Alldredge, mixed by Justin Francis and mastered by Alex McCollough. Rizzio co-wrote all of the songs – additional songwriters include Rinne, Gwen Sebastian, Aaron Raitiere, Pete Fasano, Joe Pisapia, Hayley Sabella, Mark Erelli, Mindy Smith, Carl Anderson, Skylar Wilson and Mark Usher. Musicians include Pisapia (acoustic guitar), Rinne (bass), Danny Mitchell (keys), Evan Hutchings (drums), Spencer Cullum Jr. (pedal steel), Eamon McLoughlin (strings), and Sebastian, Raitiere, Smith and Maya de Vitry (background vocals).
You can order Sunshine Is Free here: https://monicarizzio.com/album/1168785/sunshine-is-free
And check out Monica Rizzio on tour: https://monicarizzio.com/shows