First introduced by Bob Dylan in 1975 — he saw Scarlet walking in New York City with her violin case, he invited her to play on Desire. Then, his Rolling Thunder Revue. Scarlet’s haunting violin added a gypsy flavor to Dylan’s songs & was indeed exciting. A big footnote in R&R history.
After many years Chicago’s Irish-Sicilian beauty Scarlet Rivera gives us her first vocal LP. After 11 LPs All of Me, a 6-song EP (drops April 17th – Bright Sun Records) would have you think Scarlet sings with a sweet folky vocal. You’d be wrong.
The 6-original songs about women & political empowerment, self-identity, & gaining wisdom from living are closer to a Marianne Faithful-Brenda Patterson-Genya Ravan tone. A deep-seeded smoldering vocal lays out smooth as honey. Despite the huskiness, it provides an older woman’s touch of wisdom like a jazz singer, and Etta James in gypsy clothes.
Performed in an indomitable lean skillful manner the singer sounds like she experienced each tale. I always look for something just a little more than mere entertainment. There’s plenty of entertainment in Scarlet’s performance, but these 6-songs have buoyancy. Nothing sinks.
There’s no overload of violin solos. Scarlet focuses on her warm, mature vocal with good intonation, phrasing & pacing. That, with a band of skillful musicians.
Producer Tim Goodman (guitar, mandolin, organ, percussion); Mike Finnigan (keyboards); Steve Ferrone (drums); Jimmy Haslip (bass); Andrew Kastner (guitar); Bill Bergman (horns); Delanie Pickering (guitar) with additional help from Kevin Medeiros & Nick Vincent (drums), Johnny Hoy (harmonica), & multiple fine backup singers.
“Dust Bowl,” is a bone-dry ballad scratched in Grapes of Wrath impressions. It gallops with bright mandolin (Goodman) & harmonica (Johnny Hoy). Scarlet’s rural & rootsy, dark with grit, sand, flat tires, & desperate cars loaded with furniture. Pretty bleak but, wonderfully constructed. Lyrics? No. This is a little musical novella. Steinbeck would’ve been proud. Scarlet’s signature violin saws with beauty at the end.
With her best wrenching Marianne Faithful vocals “Lady Liberty” is wrought with a 40-mule Borax team in its folky narration. Guitars splinter like The Blasters, backup vocals are spooky good.
The more soulful “All of Me,” is tight, balanced & Scarlet again displays vocal expertise. No showboating.
With some Bob Dylan phrasing “50/50” is potent with instrumental interplay. Ms. Rivera’s violin is seldom aggressive. She’s just one of the musicians, with a great violin tone & blends well with this ensemble.
The lyrics sometimes border on cliché but seldom do. Scarlet sculptures her message carefully with sincerity & good editing. The “Sacred Wheel,” is closer to a warm Leonard Cohen spiritual quality. Lovely.
Paying homage to Joni Mitchell, “Songbird,” closes the CD.
“…she explores the pageantry with a pallet knife.” Very nice. If I were Bob Dylan, I never would’ve let this Ms. Rivera getaway. The package is die-cut & well-designed with lyric insert. The 26-minute CD is available at iTunes. https://www.scarletriveramusic.com/