If the reoccurring narrative in today’s climate of popular music is that songwriting is a lost art, then the midwest’s (Chicago/St. Louis)Singer/Song-writer/Multi-instrumentalist Rio City is pure revivalist. The particular brand of Indie Soul on his Larry Byrd (Kevin Reilly) produced 2012 debut EP “Red Velvet Roses” is not only a breath of fresh air for the genre of R&B (which is arguably at its lowest point commercially and artistically at any time since its inception) but should also be viewed as a collective sigh of relief for a region that has seen itself defined by the Top 40 hip-hop that seemed to find national attention in the past decade.
Rio is no stranger to commercial songwriting as he was only 18 when he sold melodic jingles to local businesses and McDonald’s urban radio ad makers through 3rd Party producer and inked himself an artist development deal with a now defunct label during the same span of time. Growing up in North Chicago before moving with his father and being sent back and forth between urban and suburban Saint Louis, where he was the textbook behavior problem in school and it carried on into his teenage years. He derailed his musical aspirations with heavy partying, substance abuse, crime and eventually prison time. Ironically, and perhaps heroically, rather than glorify his well-documented incarcerations and past in the streets, he masterfully addresses and confronts the pain of past mistakes and regret, in a way that is not only melodically intoxicating but at times metaphorically cathartic for the listener, drawing obviously from more social conscious, introspective artists like Erykah Badu or D’ Angelo, and yet the “Neo-Soul” tag doesn’t quite give the music it just due, as at times his lust, vanity and sexual obsessions come right on out, putting the listener in mind of the more traditionally raunchy R&B bad boys like R. Kelly, Bobby Brown and in a more modern sense Trey Songz. There is also something eerily nostalgic about the music in ways it can even bring the listener to be reminded of Rick James, while Prince is obviously a huge influence. Larry Byrd’s accessible, art-pop production and Jesse Brennan’s glossy post-production matched with Rio’s penchant for melody and hook-writing can at first listen call to mind a Neptunes led-project.
In terms of the ability to reach further than the expected urban radio markets, Rio’s fascination with the indie/college rock movement of the past decade will occasionally show itself in the writing and should be able to warm the iciest of hipsters up to the album. With a live set featuring live instrumentation and armed with a whole slew of versatile covers ranging from Kings of Leon “Four Kicks” to Prince’s “Adore”, he should be sure to draw a crowd that is diverse to say the least. Perhaps the EP’s most intriguing minutes are his smooth, hip-hop/neo-soul take on Sublime’s “Caress Me Down.” Its hard to predict which branch of the ultra hip, local music sub-culture crowd will be the first to notice this movement, its easy to predict however, that anyone with a sincere appreciation for vocal-centric soul and depth in their pop music, inevitably will.
1917 is the garage rock project that is the brainchild of Mario Mathon and Jordan Mays, forming in early 2009, after Mays stint as an audio engineer at The Art Institute of Atlanta.