Scarlet Rivera’s 15 minutes of fame was back in 1975 when Bob Dylan spied her on a New York street, clocked her violin case and invited her to his studio. Soon enough she was on the Rolling Thunder tour and her gypsy like violin was an integral part of Desire. Dylan moved on and Rivera continued as a solo artist, releasing a dozen or so albums of new age or Celtic inspired tunes. All Of Me, a six song EP, is her first foray into singing her own songs.
Working in partnership with Tim Goodman who produced the disc and co-wrote all of the songs, Rivera confounds expectations as she turns out to be a fine singer, her weathered voice has the patina of experience one associates with the likes of Marianne Faithful and she uses it well on the majority of the songs here. Her violin, while not exactly taking a back seat, is merely part of the band with no grandstanding.
The first songs find Rivera in gritty mood. Dust Bowl visits Steinbeck territory on a fine acoustic country blues number where her violin duets wonderfully with Johnny Hoy’s harmonica. Lady Liberty, a savage diatribe aimed, it seems, at the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, prowls and snaps with a southern style, barbed guitars and gospel like backing singers backing Rivera’s throaty growls. All Of Me pales somewhat in comparison but its full bodied band swing with parping baritone sax and some virtuoso violin playing allows it be a more than enjoyable listen which would probably be great in a live setting. 50/50 tackles sex discrimination with some vim and vigour. It’s another low slung bar blues number with some southern accents taking it in a New Orleans direction while Rivera vamps vocally towards the end as if she were a sixties southern soul belle.
Rivera moves away from her bluesier side on the remaining two songs and they do suffer as a result as her voice is less suited to more introspective pieces. Sacred Wheel limps along somewhat with an arrangement which never takes wing on what is a tender ballad. Song Bird, a tribute to Joni Mitchell is more successful as its arrangement is reminiscent of Mitchell’s mid seventies work with billowing bass and fine soprano sax, however the lyrics are somewhat clichéd.
Whether this will open a new chapter for Ms. Rivera remains to be seen but the gutsier numbers here are promising.