In the three years since Vivian Leva’s debut, Time is Everything, her writing has grown sharper, Riley Calcagno’s playing has grown richer, and with this eponymous second album, they’ve officially become a duo. Both have been steeped in Appalachian music for as long as they’ve been alive—Leva’s parents are the great Carol Elizabeth Jones and James Leva, and Calcagno’s father is a multi-instrumentalist in Seattle’s old-time scene—and each comes to this music with a determination to dig deep.
“Will you still love me when I tear your heart away,” Leva sings “Will You,” strumming a boom-chuck rhythm as Calcagno comes close behind, singing a Stanley Brothers–inspired harmony, adding a double-stop solo on fiddle, and playing a rolling, reassuring response on six-string. It’s the perfect cheating song, with Chris Stafford (pedal steel) wailing quietly in the background, while Trey Boudreaux (bass) and Matty Meyer (drums) keep time in classic country style, fitting their sound snugly between a 2020 back porch and a 1950s Kitty Wells recording session.
More drama follows, just like it’s supposed to. In “Leaving on Our Minds,” Leva and Calcagno commit to a lifetime of walking the line between staying together and falling apart. In “Love and Chains,” they watch the sun fade, pretending love isn’t really running out, and hoping the next morning’s cup of coffee will make everything better. On “Good and Gone,” they close the album with one last stand, knowing all the miles won’t keep them apart and managing to hit the tear-stained sweet spot of country heartache.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.