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Julianna Riolino knows how to capture and highlight beauty before it fades. She spent her days running up to the release of her solo debut helping restore the stained glass windows at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto. Surrounded by symbols configured in bits of 19th century French glass, Riolino couldn’t help but reflect on her own past and the memories of pains, healing, and love strewn through it. “It made me think about life as a balancing act, and we’re all just trying to do our best to navigate it,” she says. That focus on morality and the stretch of time seeped naturally into Riolino’s Americana-indebted songwriting, resulting in the golden, fluid All Blue, due October 14th from You’ve Changed Records. “If I was a painter, this would be my blue period,” she says. “I’m looking at my life, all my decisions lined up, and either atoning for them or laughing them off.”
The true religious fervor both in Riolino’s life and in the LP is directed towards icons like Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and The Band. Inspired by those artists, Riolino asked for a guitar as a child, and began teaching herself how to bring similar life to the melodies in her head. And while she honed her voice by participating in school musicals, songwriting remained a deeply personal venture. “I sang at every opportunity, but I didn’t share my songs with people until I was 18 or 19,” she says. The first song she decided to play for friends was “Lone Ranger”, a reimagining of which now acts as the lead single for her debut solo album ten years later.
That track perfectly encapsulates Riolino’s ability to reenvision the warmest strands of musical sepia and put her own individualist stamp on them. “I’m a lone ranger in this lonely world,” she repeats, Thomas Hammerton’s honky-tonk piano romping over the rippling rhythm and buzzsaw guitar. The song’s urgent independence plays throughout the record, Riolino for better and worse taking sole ownership of her place.
The stories are told with a hefty dose of wit and wordplay mixed into pitch-perfect representations of classic Americana tropes. Riolino has shown that same duality in her role as a member of cult favorite Daniel Romano’s backing band, The Outfit, here utilizing Romano as a guitarist and putting a tighter focus on her powerful vocals. The sway and twang of “Queen of Spades” veils references to the other three suits in a deck of cards, Riolino rewarding closer listens though even the surface level is downright Parton-esque. “And it breaks my heart in two/ Pieces of a portrait be/ Happiness and fragility,” she sings, pedal steel guitar gliding through her tight harmonies, the song a musical middle finger to an insincere lover.
Second single “You” brings Roy Orbison tinges into the mix, charging headlong between girl group harmonies repeating the title and nimbly dense verses–as if Riolino is attempting to convince herself that she doesn’t need someone, even if she hates to see them leave. “Oh retroflex the feeling/ Of thoughtful micro-needing/ Of my mind and soul/ I don’t really need you,” she insists, her voice soaring majestically into the upper register.
Recorded in August 2020 at the now-shuttered Baldwin Street Sound, All Blue was produced by Aaron Goldstein and largely features a cadre of musicians playing together in the room. “Recording live made for some long days, but it was a lot of fun and I had the benefit of working with some really talented people,” Riolino says. “It helped create this feeling of glimpsing a moment in time. It’s like therapy: I could just let out this period of life and then move forward.”
Leaning more heavily on emotional reality than diary details, the kernel of truth and experience always shines through in Riolino’s songwriting. That duality rings like a lovesick bell on “Isn’t It A Pity”, a track lodged somewhere between AM radio breeze and the florid wash of Waxahatchee. Trilling organ and Roddy Carlyle’s rangy bass play the perfect complement to Riolino’s sweetly strummed acoustic. “Isn’t it a pity, isn’t it a shame/ The flowers in our garden have bloomed and shed their fray,” she bounces, before adding lines about astral projection, bringing a modernist edge to the vintage proceedings.
Blending past and present musically represents Riolino’s own experience as well, the songs written over a period of years, their meanings picking beyond that stretch and pulling lessons forward. And in that process, her philosophical lyrics bring that complexity forward to the listener in surreally sweet melodies, pouring growth and healing directly through the ear and into the heart. “For me it was about looking into a reflection of who you once were, letting go of that idea of who you thought you needed to be, and being okay with who you are.”