In Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, she contends that “modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.” Even during the last year of COVID-19 lockdowns, the quickness of modern life has persevered, and it feels like there’s always a Zoom call to hop onto, work to be done, and bread to be made.
The relaxed warmth of Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno’s self-titled record nudges you to take a deep breath and to check in with yourself and your surroundings. Across the album, the pair take time to linger in the moment: They notice the “cracked white ceiling,” the starry night sky, and they give each other space to talk about their days. They sing about love in a thoughtful manner, too, and it’s treated as something to savor and celebrate. On “Love and Chains” and “Leaving on Our Minds,” time’s incessant forward motion is devastating because it disrupts their quiet pace. “Why don’t we just sit and watch the sunlight fade?” Leva sings on the former track.
Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno is the first full-length collaborative recording from the Portland-based duo, but Calcagno was involved in the making of Leva’s 2018 debut solo album, Time is Everything. On their self-titled record, Leva and Calcagno’s chemistry is brilliant as their voices and Americana instrumentals fit together as naturally as two lovers falling into each other’s arms.
Leva and Calcagno blend guitars, pedal steel, fiddle, banjo, and much more. For the most part, this instrumentation is settled but on occasion, like “On Account of You,” where excitement bubbles over, a song will turn into a lively affair. The album’s most gorgeous instrumental moment happens about halfway through the record, on “Red Hen.” Leva sings about feeling inundated by other people’s voices and her own negative thoughts. In response, Calcagno plays a wandering guitar solo and then steps back to allow Sam Fribush’s piano to have the spotlight. The result feels like two pillars propping you up when you’re about to crumble.
Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno is an album built on thoughtful observations, great musical skill, and a powerful connection. It also happens to make the perfect companion for your next walk.