Rio En Medio The Bride of Dynamite

[Gnomonsong; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: folk, psychedelic, singer/songwriter
Others: Josephine Foster, Nico, Espers, Joanna Newsom

The story of how Rio En Medio (a.k.a. Danielle Stech-Homsy) made it to the eyes and ears of the public sounds like a fairy tale too perfect to be true. In short: A girl is born and raised in the southwest, moves to New York, records some songs on her baritone ukulele with only the intention to satisfy her own musings. She befriends Sierra Casady, who enjoys Rio’s music in private until Devendra-you-know-who drops in unannounced and overhears the siren song. Immediately taken by its power, Devendra pushes for a widespread release. Up to speed? Great. Skeptical? Why shouldn’t you be; it sounds like a sub-plot of a soap opera, and the text is practically lifted from a promotional one-sheet. After reading what was actually a much more elaborate description, I couldn’t help but think of something like an American Idol of Folk Music. Who will be the big star of 2007? Will it be a newcomer, or an old treasure from yesteryear some young ones have dug up and whose career they'll help revive? I suppose if there were such a thing, Rio En Medio would be a wonderful contender; however, all the clichés of the contemporary folk revival immediately vanished from my mind upon hearing The Bride of Dynamite.

While the proliferation of folkie art students has made it difficult to even want to separate the weeds from the flowers, it’s clear that there’s something unique and genuine about Rio. She has the sound of a well-versed world traveler, lifting texts from William Blake, John Ashbery, and even slipping into French for a poem by Paul Eluard. And then there’s her baritone ukulele, a somewhat exotic instrument on its own, aiding her sense of worldliness. The four-string monster sounds very bare (no pun intended), occasionally playing chords, but more often settling on one- and two-note, low, resonating, rhythmic pulses. From the first song, “You Can Stand,” it’s clear that her sense of time on the instrument is relative from moment to moment, like the music of Erik Satie (who often wrote with no bar lines, to emphasize just how fluid time could be). Between the airy, unwavering conviction in her voice and the spacious individual plucks of the ukulele, The Bride of Dynamite has a rich sense of emptiness and insightful melancholy while never coming off as being self-loathing.

That explains half of The Bride of Dynamite. The other equally important element in all this is her sense of detail towards space. As mentioned, the ukulele is already doing its part to leave an open palette, and in theory, anything competing with her delicate instrument would be overbearing. But the soft soundscapes she interjects into the music, as well as contributions from friends such as Casady, Tim Fite, and Thom Monahan, only enhance her songwriting and add an element of surprise. On “Europe A Prophecy,” she ditches the ukulele all together and relies on eerie layered vocals, drenched in gorgeous reverb. It’s experiments like this, as well as keyboards, various murky noises, and even splashes of electronic percussion, that keep her from being a straight-up folkie. “I See The Star” is about as far as you can get from the genre, with glitched-out, popping drum beats infused into the song in a way that would make Christian Fennesz proud.

As opposed to one-take, live-in-studio performances, Rio En Medio has meticulously layered her music together, fully taking advantage of a homespun, multitracking environment. When all is said and done, The Bride of Dynamite is an extremely “produced” album, which separates her from most of her contemporaries. Rather than riding on the coattails of any genre, Rio is clearly going down her own road, brushing up against different styles and literary references along the way.

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