In the new CD “A Rhio Good Thing,” vocalist Rhio belts out songs strong and clear. Her style is direct, uplifting and tinged with taking no BS. Did you know the adored Latin song “No More Blues” has words? Rhio has rediscovered this gem and tells the story of leaving the sad times where they belong, way behind her. She handles the tempo change expertly with a smooth confidence. And who knew that a song by the folk icon Phil Ochs (“There But for Fortune”) could be reinvented to a bluesy extreme that will knock socks off? This track bears repeated listening for best effect, as the lyrics hearken to a different tumultuous time in our history but have renewed relevance today.
It should be noted the brilliance of the musicians backing her up add to this wonderful collection of songs. She’s chosen her collaborators wisely to create a jazzy home run.
Did you always gravitate to the torch-song style of music?
No, I never thought I could do it until I got into jazz three years ago. Then, while listening to others, I forged my own way or style. I do love most types of music though… rock, pop, blues and particularly jazz and Latin.
What was the most memorable part of your early training?
I’ve had a few early experiences, and not all were positive. While in high school, the head of the music dept. told me NOT to sing. “But I want to be in show biz!” I said. He said, “Try acting.” I did try acting, but I didn’t like it as much. It didn’t resonate with my soul like music does.
Perhaps I was a terrible singer in high school, but this experience taught me to follow my own counsel and never listen to the less-than-positive advice of others. It would have been hard not to listen though, given my upbringing. As it was I gave up on the singing for four long years until I met someone who was working with a Latin band and he asked me if I could sing. I said, “Oh no, I can’t sing.” He said “Yes you can, I hear it in your speaking voice,” and he started coaching me and I regained my confidence.
What instrumentation do you prefer to back you up?
It depends on the song. I like a good solid rhythm section. I also love saxophones and violas or lower-range violin sounds. I also love harmonicas and guitars. But really, the most important part of the whole thing depends on whether musicians are playing with their heart and soul. If you can get them to do that, it is a good day.
How did you choose the songs for the current CD “A Rhio Good Thing”?
I always choose songs with a strong melody that resonate with me.
My partner, Leigh Crizoe, wrote some songs specifically for the album, like “Strange Times” (about the perplexing political times we live in), “I’m a Jazz Radio Junkie,” and “I’m Done with Cryin’.” Leigh also converted a hit jingle he had into a song, which he called “We’ve Got the Look,” from his famous Jordache Jeans Commercial (You’ve Got the Look). I love all of Leigh’s work.
A couple of years ago I was invited to a Phil Ochs tribute party, and prior to the party, they were looking for singers to take on some of his songs. Since I wanted to participate, I started listening to his body of work and learned he was a folk singer/activist who expressed himself profusely through his writing and performances. I chose to learn the song called “There But for Fortune,” but when I submitted it I was told that someone else was going to sing that song, so I didn’t perform at the party. But I had found an amazing song that though written many years ago, is still highly relevant in today’s political climate. As I did more research on the song, I found that nobody had done it in any genre other than folk. But I felt it in blues genre.
What’s your favorite track and why?
It’s so hard to choose…that Phil Ochs’s song “There But For Fortune,” because it beautifully portrays and, I hope, arouses empathy and compassion for people in less fortunate circumstances.
Who’s the personnel on this CD with you?
Leigh Crizoe is the producer of the album, as well as one of the writers and arrangers.
And the musicians are:
On drums, we have Mike Campini, Eldon Simms, and Rodrigo Bonnelli.
On piano, Cecilia Coleman, Dennis Williams and Leigh Crizoe.
On bass, Wayne Batchelor and EunJung Jo.
On guitar, Joe Giglio and Piers Lawrence.
On sax, Ray Blue and Doug Norwine.
Electric Violin: Ernesto Llorens.
How would you say your sound is evolving?
The voice as an instrument is something that is always surprising me. Right now my challenge is to develop my scatting non-language skills.
What’s the most common question you get from audiences?
“How does such a big voice come out of such a little person?”
Do you prefer small clubs or large venues and festivals?
I love it all… but small clubs are more rewarding because in those situations if the audience is with you and you can feel their love, they are helping you perform better. There is nothing like that feeling of love and appreciation all around.
Where would you most like to perform?
Anywhere my efforts are appreciated.
I would also like to have my performances captured on video or film. We are in the process of doing a video for the song “I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl.”
If I’m able to command an audience big enough to fill Madison Square Garden or Carnegie Hall, then I would feel that I had achieved some success with my singing. In the meantime, I dream on.
What is the biggest challenge as a jazz vocalist today?
Getting the airplay needed to boost one’s career to the next level. Most jazz stations primarily play jazz instrumentalists, and maybe 10-15% vocalists. I don’t think that’s very fair because the voice is an instrument as well, and as such, should be accorded at least 50% of the airtime.
My partner Leigh has written a movie he calls “The Toon Chicks.” It’s a combination of live action and animation, about a female singing group (with me as one of the members) that winds up in a very unusual situation while trying to make it in the music business. It has some really great songs, both standards and originals, along with a story line that has a lot of laughs and a few tears. We are now in the beginning stages of finding financing.
For more information, visit www.rhiosmusic.com/about.