Randy Lee Riviere
Blues Sky represents a shift for singer-songwriter Randy Lee Riviere, teaming again with the acclaimed producer Kevin McKendree who produced, engineered, and mixed the album. The last time we visited Riviere he and McKendree delivered a western tinged Americana effort, 2021’s Wyoming. Before that, under the moniker Mad Buffalo Riviere issued four albums over the course of roughly two decades. Riviere is an outspoken environmentalist and every album, going back to the Mad Buffalo run, assails development and gentrification. Here we have “Needles,” with its line – “Our American dream is red, white, blue, and green.” Yet the prevailing takeaway from this album is Riviere’s transformation to a stomping blues-rocker. That too though is less than surprising as the restless Riviere has been described as an outlaw country artist, one in the Neil Young/Crazy Horse mode (there’s some of that here too), southern rocker, and even a pop artist. His association with McKendree though inspired Riviere to buy a second home south of Nashville and he now splits his time between Wyoming and Tennessee. Maybe just hanging around with the producer whose track record includes Delbert McClinton, Tinsley Ellis, John Hiatt, Big Joe Maher, and so many more would ultimately lead Riviere to the blues.
Here Riviere, whose lead guitar infuses the album, is backed by McKendree on keys and guitars along with bassist David Santos and drummer Kenneth Blevins, just your basic four-piece, with the McCrary Sisters (Ann, Regina, & Freda) appearing on the closing gospel tune “Cold, Cold, River.” Riviere and McKendree wrote ten of the eleven songs with Riviere getting sole credit for “Needles.” The opener “American Redoubt” sounds straight out a ZZ Top record but lyrically evokes Young’s “Powder Finger,” as Riviere seems to at first be warning about encroaching real estate developers, but these lines evoke perhaps militia groups – “They had a van full of bullets and a dozen guns/ A drone and a chopper just for fun.” “You’re So Kind” plays to a heavy Stones-like riff but stays vanilla lyrically by comparison but the emotional anger, buttressed by stinging guitar, comes through vividly as it also does on “Do or Don’t.” The aforementioned “Needles” requires far little interpretation – “Now your grass is green and the blades are long But you’re living out here … where you don’t belong.”
“Got No Spit Shine” continues to rail against materialism and pretentiousness while he slows into ballad mode for “Just One More Time” a metaphorical plea to regain the natural beauty that is disappearing. His angst driven blues rock blares without restraint on “Old Country’s Son,” yet another ode to living off the grid to escape the madness. “What You Know About Pain” is a visceral blues shuffle that grabs on and doesn’t let up. “Rocky’s Road” seems to be a struggling ex-con and is dead center in that power chord drenched Crazy Horse vibe, replete with “Hey, hey” in the chorus. The gritty, crunchy “Joseline” is about a relationship that never quite panned out but left an indelible impression on the protagonist. Then, seemingly out of nowhere comes the comforting, sublime gospel closer, “Cold, Cold, River” with the McCrary Sisters and McKendree’s B3 making Riviere’s vocals sound by far the best of any track on the album. Riviere was so touched with the result that he promises to write more gospel tunes. It suits him well and we can hopefully look forward to that. Whether he sticks with this blues-rock approach remains to be seen. We may see yet another side of Riviere next time out. To these ears, a return to the Americana style would be welcome as these riff-driven blues-rockers grow a bit stale rather quickly and add little to his insightful and convicted lyrics, his major strength.
- Jim Hynes
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