For New Eyes, Arizona folk music powerhouses Matt Rolland and Rebekah Sandoval Rolland have come full circle. Their band, RISO, is the culmination of a musical lifetime spent together – and the album is a document of the ebb and flow of the last decade of their lives as students, musicians, and, more recently, parents.
They met as kids at the Arizona State Fiddle Contest, which Rebekah’s grandfather organized for many years. Rolland was a frequent contestant in Payson, and both of them grew up in family bands, playing the Arizona bluegrass and acoustic festival circuit. When they both ended up at the University of Arizona, they started a band. The partnership led them through many musical projects over the years, but none more fully the both of them than RISO.
Rolland and Rebekah bring very different influences to the table despite their shared culture, and the interplay is on full display on New Eyes. Rolland’s history as a contest fiddle player in the Texas and bluegrass styles shows itself in nimble, quick melodic lines. Sandoval Rolland’s fascination with old-time music comes out in speech-driven, “crooked” rhythms and unexpected phrasing. Rolland introduced Sandoval Rolland to pop influences like the Shins and Iron and Wine; Sandoval Rolland fell in love with another band they listened to two decades ago, Crooked Still, and that affair has continued unbroken. From the Latin word for “smile” or “laughter,” RISO synthesizes that push and pull. It embraces an old-time aesthetic that seems to emanate from the very bones of the earth yet incorporates pop flourishes and sometimes complex arrangements to get the message across.
The album feels like the natural growth of an old tradition, flourishing into something new. Sandoval’s voice has a heartbreaking clarity and grace, traveling seamlessly between filigrees of a dreamy springtime delicacy and crescendos of strength. There is an innocence to it that makes the weight of her words hit all the stronger. Rolland’s sure hand gives rise to it, responding to every nuance and cradling the sound with sometimes surprising textures – like a 60s psychedelic guitar jangle or French horn coming through the acoustic pop. His original instrumental tunes buoy the album forward, melding influences from Celtic, old-time, and bluegrass traditions.
The songs will break your heart and fix it again. From the wistful “Geometric Slide” to the jaunty “Caterpillar Prince,” from the ominous and smoky “Always Running” to the budding of desire in “Closer,” these are songs of innocence and of experience (to borrow from Blake).
Rolland and Sandoval Rolland summoned formidable friends to help with the project. Arthur Vint (credits include Postmodern Jukebox) provides the drums; Ryan David Green (Ryanhood) contributes electric guitar; Steff Koeppen (Steff and the Articles; Copeland) is on keyboard; Thøger Lund (Giant Sand) plays bass; Ben Plotnick (The Fretless, Oliver the Crow, and Atwood Quartet) and Kaitlyn Raitz (Oliver the Crow and Atwood Quartet) wrote several of the string arrangements and played fiddle and cello respectively. The album was engineered by Tucson stalwarts Peter Dalton Ronstadt and Steven Lee Tracy and mixed by Philip Shaw Bova (Father John Misty, Lake Street Dive, Feist). But such a team of captains – most lead their own bands – never overshadows the wit and heart of the Rollands. RISO is their love letter to you.
"There are albums where the end result is clearly the product of far more than the music making process, embodying the relationship between the musicians and their music, and life. ‘New Eyes’ is one of these and in making it RISO have added another entry to the end of year 'best-of' lists." - AmericanaUK
"A rising star in the Americana and mountain music world." - Ear to the Ground
"Their delicately crafted music hits all of the right marks." - PopMatters
"Authentic slices of storytelling that make for some of the most compelling listening from out of the roots world so far this year." -Jonathan Frahm, For Folk's Sake
“A slice of folk perfection.” -Jonathan Aird, Americana UK