RYVOLI is made up of two women and two cities, and the duality shows in the music. Jenn Whiteman and Samantha Howard are a folk band, but they’ve found a way to take the delicacy of their art and make it slightly less like the product of some sewing attempt and more like the needle. Their music is overwhelmingly lovely at first listen, but don’t be fooled: they have taken the Lexington, KY grit and infused it with the Parisian colors and flavors that the band is named after, the street Rue de Rivoli, where they met.
Both Whiteman and Howard sing and play guitar, and it’s impressive to watch: they harmonize as well with their instruments as they do with their vocals. In a forthcoming song, “Wine,” it’s easy to be distracting by the haunting cello that creates atmosphere underneath their deft guitar work, but again: don’t be fooled. RYVOLI reminds me most of how I felt when I first heard For Emma, Forever Ago. The first listen is pleasant, and honestly, if that’s all you make it through, you’ve still come away hearing some beautiful art. But what’s best about RYVOLI is that there is a depth that shows itself in every song.
You can hear both “Roots” and “Sleep Talking” now on Spotify, Bandcamp, and Apple Music, and they are both stunning. It’s as if Whiteman and Howard are releasing these songs as many writers do poems: crafting them as carefully as possible, and finally giving them to listeners when they’re perfectly ready to go. In “Sleep Talking,” which I was drawn to immediately, the strings start with a staccato, fast rhythm, so different than the soothing background provided in forthcoming single “Wine,” which lets the listener know right away—this isn’t good sleep. There is beautiful description throughout the song—in the opening verse, the second person character the song is addressed to is described as having a “shape like a phase of the moon.” In fact, there are several places where the “you” in the song could easily be described as the moon—it’s so visceral, and the element of light (and occasional lack thereof, leaving the whole relationship dark and then “new,” starting the cycle over). However, it seems like RYVOLI has just found a beautiful conceit to spill the song into, like the perfect—well, shape—for a narrative like this. For example, the chorus—
I can’t seem to sleep with you walking around here
Carving a trail through my mind
Night after night, you come home to kiss me
And day after day, I decline
You look so sweet, always at ease
The picture of peace
As you talk in your sleep
—showcases a restlessness, sure, but it also pulls on the duality of how frustrating sleeplessness can be, and how strangely lovely it is to watch someone you love in their sleep. Who hasn’t had the moment where they woke up a few moments before someone they loved and just admired that this person has decided to spend their time, maybe even their whole life, with you? The narrator, despite being tired, has a soft spot for this moment, possibly because there is no vulnerability more raw than when someone talks in their sleep.
Nothing showcases the way that Whiteman and Howard use their dual talents to pull a song—neatly—apart at the seams as when the vocals part. The primary vocals stay clear and crisp, but the new vocals—those have something ghostly about them, something otherworldly. Sure, those of us who understand the way music is made can identify which machine is used to create that effect—but why should we? Sometimes, I think the magic of music is torn apart in dissection. Let’s, for a moment, believe that there is a ghost singing under the primary vocals. Ironically, the song ends with the ghost vocals overpowering the primary vocals all together—something in the other world has won.
Call it out
Close your eyes
Weak and featherweight
Dress you down
Lose your mind
To your honesty
Make your bed
In another place
Is all we need
As the song comes to a close, the voices seem to mix together. Maybe the narrator was talking to herself. Perhaps that’s the beauty of RYVOLI—in so many two-person acts, it’s the tension between them that creates something interesting. With RYVOLI, it’s the harmony and togetherness.