I interviewed Scarlet Rivera recently on my radio show because I loved her songs and what she can do with her red hot violin. Rivera opened the door for strings in rock and roll and has played with the likes of Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Indigo Girls, and many others. Now she has come out with an EP that puts her smoky, catch-in-the-throat voice front and center. The All of Me EP, to be released later this month, is a gift of 6 songs, each of which hits you in the gut and kidnaps your ears. Rivera shows she far more than a fabulous rock and roll violinist, but a down and dirty blues rock singer who grabs you with lyrics, ties you up with catgut, and leave you sweating bullets.
She kicks off the EP with “Dust Bowl”, a fast moving ballad about a sad time in nation’s history with near-country violin backing that puts you in the historical mood but raises your energy level. She moves on to “Lady Liberty”, a gripping story sung and played down low at gut-level, reminding you of the values of America and how they are an endangered species. She kicks the power back up with “All of Me” with a trucking-down-the-road beat, backup singers and screaming rock violin riffs. Wow.
Rivera gets real funky country-like with “50/50”, a strong statement of female power and what a relationship has to be to work for her and what happens when it doesn’t: “that ain’t 50/50 and that’s a cryin’ shame. One of the most powerful displays of her violin virtuoso supporting her voice is “Sacred Wheel”, a ballad that opens her heart and sails. She wraps up the EP with “Songbird”, a slow tempo piece of musical poetry that weaves a complex tapestry of violin, guitar and lyrics.
Rivera is best known as the American violinist who worked with Bob Dylan and his album Desire and as part of the Rolling Thunder tour. But as this EP demonstrates, she is so much more. Besides breaking the glass wall for both women and strings in rock, she has played with jazz bands, Cuban bands, Celtic groups, symphonies, new age bands and folk ensembles. She has toured the world, blown the roof off of venues like the Kennedy Center, appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, and recorded or performed (or both) with Tracy Chapman, Keb Mo, Indigo Girls, Duke Ellington, and many more. She is working on two new albums for release. And in her spare time plays with swords and snakes.
Rivera has played with the best, but always held her voice in check. Now that she has released an EP with her at the microphone as well as on the strings, we can see and hear what full-spectrum talent she is. Her voice is strong and definitive; when she sings “I’m not your property, I’m not your slave” in “50/50” she means it. The voice is feminine, but solid – a voice that she deftly modulates for each song, always feminine but always upfront, one reason why All of Me works so well. Adding her voice to her violin is long overdue and I for one am very happy Scarlet Rivera finally took the leap.
All of Me will be released late February 2020 on Bright Sun Records
Patrick O’Heffernan is co-host of the LA-based, nationally syndicated weekly program, Music FridayLive! and is a music reviewer for online magazines Vents, The Hollywood Progressive and MusicJunkie. He has also co-hosted a national political talk show, The Fairness Doctrine, and hosted the “Uplinks” media segment on Saturday All Things Considered on NPR. He holds a PhD in International Relations from MIT, has been awarded an Emmy, four Addy’s, and a Webby-Honors, among other awards. He has published 5 books and ghost-written others. A project he co-launched, the North Asia Nuclear Free Zone, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. He serves on the Board of Netroots Nation.