Self-titled – Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno

It’s always striking when a young artist eschews the temptation to simply come across as trendy, or as if they’re beholden only to current fads or tapestries. The duo consisting of Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno offer the ideal example of up-and-coming artists who pay heed to homegrown values and the traditional trappings that were once an inherent element in their musical upbringing, and remain decidedly so even today. Leva’s 2018 solo debut, the aptly-titled Time Is Everything, reflected her roots sewn in rural Appalachia, and now, partnering with Calcagno, who was reared with the same sensibilities, has made an effective bid to reclaim the same critical kudos that greeted her the first time around. 

That’s not to say that Leva and Calcagno merely retread the tried and true. Far from it. Their eponymous duo debut consists of original songs that borrow from a well-worn template, but substitute wonderful shimmering melodies that provide an effusive, effervescent glow. All originals, they’re in a general grassicana vein, but offer a range of sounds that encompass the sweet balladry found in songs such as Will You, Love and Chains, and Hollowed Hearts, as well as the lively fiddle frenzy that comes across in On Account of You, the sweeping piano interlude of Red Hen, the pedal steel-drenched sway of Leaving On Our Minds, and the loping old-time trappings of My Teardrops Say. So too, the darker designs of You Don’t See Me add an unexpected element of anticipation and a feeling of gothic gravitas as well, varying the template and adding to the overall feel and fitness.

With both Leva and Calcagno taking the helm on guitars, vocals, and harmonies, Grammy-winning producer Joel Savoy — mainly noted for his efforts in cajun music circles — shares a sense of folk finesse courtesy of a backing band that’s clearly committed to enhancing the couple’s supple, seductive stylings. As a result, the album offers a broad embrace, one that’s not confined to any particular genre or selective set-up. While its origins may have evolved from a vintage vantage point, the music evokes universal feelings and a genuine sense of shared celebration. Flush with wistful reflection, it is, by all measure, an album for the ages, and one that ought to allow Leva and Calcagno to embrace their shared sense of pride.

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.