Heartstrings Interview Review

REVIEW: Monica Rizzio’s ‘Washashore Cowgirl’

By Trevor Christian

During her decade-long run in Tripping Lily, Monica Rizzio proved she could perform carefully composed folk tunes like few others in the Northeast. Though Rizzio’s talents were always apparent and it seemed natural she would want an opportunity to perform lead vocals on more than a few tracks out of an album, it was difficult to imagine her performing anything other than the delicate note-perfect type of music she had become known for. Washashore Cowgirl, Rizzio’s debut solo album, makes those expectations seem insulting and limited.

The first track, “You and Me,” starts off with a drum beat that’s soon joined by a country fiddle and banjo. Rizzio enters with a more casual and grittier tone than she’d recorded before and laments a relationship turned toxic. The lyrics, including an excellent line about driving back in the other direction only to discover she can’t return to the past, show someone in a state of chaos. She compares herself to a storm and fireworks while hurling some slightly childish insults at her former love. It’s expertly chosen to lead an album that’s reintroducing Rizzio as a red dirt girl with an honest and unfiltered voice.

“Texarkana,” one of the album’s two cover songs, had a lot to do with Rizzio’s new direction. In an interview for WUSB, Rizzio explained she decided to reconnect with her Texas musical background after listening to Sean Brennan perform the song at a show in her new home in Massachusetts. That path led her to become a finalist in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest for “Willie Nelson,” a tribute to a certain musical hero of hers. The song describes a relationship that does a decent job at capturing the adventure, scope and optimism of some of Willie’s best works.

Not every track sticks with the album’s mood, however. “Luckier Than You” stands out as a personal love song, though it hardly feels like casual Americana. In it, Rizzio returns to the delicate vocals of her Tripping Lily days in a sensual serenade to her husband. The lyrics are simple but the vocal performance and ukulele strumming sell it wonderfully. “Delta Dawn,” one of the two songs on the album not penned by Rizzio, is enjoyable but seems strikingly out of place. It tells story of a woman gone astray told through sing-song small town gossip and therefore doesn’t quite match up with the voice of the lovable outsider Rizzio builds on almost every other song. Normally, the listener is rooting for the underdog whether it’s the upbeat and self-mocking cowgirl in the title track to the down-but-determined voice in “Best I Can.”

Rizzio is a lot more relatable when she’s on the other end of the gossip in “Buttercups,” a modern take on The Scarlett Letter that features a version of Hester Prynne drinking right after work but still trying to cover her letter and sure she’ll find love. “On My Way,” a song featuring and co-written by Mark Erelli, continues this narrative in closing the album. Though this track still finds Rizzio unlucky in love like the first did, this time she’s not shooting off in the other direction like a firework. Backed by a gentle fiddle and plucked guitar, she expresses confidence that heading back to her roots was the right decision. After listening to this album, it’s hard to argue with that.

Rizzio is currently on tour throughout the New England region, including at the Caramoor American Roots Music Festival in Katonah, NY. All dates can be found here: http://www.monicarizzio.com/shows

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Trevor Christian is the host of Country Pocket on WUSB. The show airs at 1pm on Thursdays on 90.1 FM on Long Island and www.wusb.fm worldwide. A recording of the most recent episode can be heard by clicking the show’s speaker icon at www.wusb.fm/station/schedule/week.

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