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The Graham Album Review #2200

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Ricciardi-Ronstadt: Blue Bayou

(independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 6/3/2024)

Musical associations happen in different ways. Usually when a band forms, the founders seek out players for the instruments needed – a drummer, a bass player, and so on, to fill out the band. But sometimes, the musical partnership happen in less structured, more organic ways, and you end up with perhaps an unusual instrumental configuration, a clarinet player in a rock band, or maybe an accordion in a bluegrass band. This time, we have one of those odd combinations and the result is an interesting album that brings a different take to some familiar songs. It’s by a duo called Ricciardi-Ronstadt, and their album is called Blue Bayou.

The principals are vocalist Neysa Ricciardi and cellist Michael G. Ronstadt, and yes, he’s related to singer Linda Ronstadt, who is his aunt.

Ms. Ricciardi does not play an instrument on the album, so for the cello to carry much of the instrumental weight would seem to be challenging. Ms. Ricciardi says that the two met on the Fourth of July in 2013, at a concert involving Ronstadt’s family, and Ricciardi and Michael G. Ronstad started jamming together. Obviously, a single voice and cello would make for a rather esoteric or just plain boring album, but Ronstadt almost always multi-tracks his cello on the album, usually having a bass part played pizzicato, and one or two melody lines. Frequently there is a percussionist, rather than a drum set, and there are some occasional guest appearances from a trumpeter, and a vibist. Ronstatd also occasionally plays some guitar and mandolin on one track.

Though there are two original songs, most of the album is made up of Tin Pan Alley area standards, with an odd, ominous-sounding cover of the title song, Blue Bayou, made famous by Linda Ronstadt.

Opening is a song that has become a jazz standard, On Green Dolphin Street originally from a film in the 1950s. After a kind of psychedelic opening section with odd cello noises <<>> the album settles down to the general sound of the project, with Ronstadt usually on three tracks of his cello – plucking the bass line and two melodic lines. This piece does have a regular drum set as played by Chuck Staab. <<>>

The title track Blue Bayou though it was made famous by Michael Ronstadt’s aunt Linda Ronstadt, was actually written by Roy Orbison. The duo take it at a slow tempo and give it as kind of spooky texture. <<>>

Ricciardi and Ronstadt gives another old standard The Face That I Love a version in a jazzy waltz time. Ronstadt also contributes vocals. <<>>

Probably the jazziest track on the album is one of the two original songs, September Sad, which features Morgan Walbridge on vibes. Ms. Ricciardi shows she has the jazz vocal chops. <<>>

The duo includes a tune by jazz great Bob Dorough, Small Day Tomorrow, which also features some interesting instrumental contributions with Ronstadt on cello, and Mat Cappy on trumpet. <<>>

Ricciardi and Ronstadt do a bluesy tune called Ain’t No Use which also features the trumpet. The cello is not exactly an instrument associated with the blues, and for the most part, it’s just playing the bass part. <<>> But Ronstadt does a little solo section. <<>>

One of the more creative tracks is a medley of the Beatles’ Mother Nature’s Son with the old standard song Nature Boy. The duo do the tunes in a way just is opposite what you would expect, a slow, lugubrious version of Mother Nature’s Son with an upbeat treatment of Nature Boy. <<>>

The album ends with the other original tune called Better Days. It’s an attractive swingy song with optimistic lyrics. Ronstadt overdubs several parts, playing electric and acoustic guitar in addition to his cello bass line and some bowed cello parts. <<>>

It’s interesting when an unlikely musical combination takes shape, often because of the personal affinity of the players. Naysa Ricciardi and Michael G. Ronstadt are one of those musical amalgamations. Actually, it’s not the first time for a cello-vocal duo – back in 2007, there as the duo of Bethany Yarrow, daughter of Peter, Paul & Mary’s Peter Yarrow, and cellist Rufus Cappadocia did an album of mainly traditional folk songs. Ricciardi and Ronstadt take a rather jazzier approach, covering several jazz standards, and Ronstadt liberally overdubs his cello and adds some guitar. The arrangements can sound stripped down, especially for songs one is more used to hearing in more orchestrated versions, but it works quite well and the result is pleasing and can be amusing in a way, thanks to Ricciardi’s personable vocals.

Our grade for audio quality is about a “B-minus.” The sound is over-compressed to the point that both the vocal and cello just don’t sound very clean.

Overall, Ricciardi and Ronstadt’s Blue Bayou provides a some enjoyable listening from a musically distinctive perspective.

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This page last updated June 10, 2024