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Monica Rizzio

Sunshine is Free – 2019 (Washashore)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Monica Rizzio

Monica Rizzio's second album, "Sunshine Is Free," emblematic of its title, ushers in bright country music, with roots touches but generally gliding in melodic, uplifting country territory. Put this in your player when you need a smile or two. Rizzio, unlike many singer-songwriters, only rarely sings about navigating through struggles or our socio-political state. Instead, she sings mostly about how appreciating little things can make everything just a little better. In a way, listening to the title track, it's a shame that her album didn't come out in the summer because it has so many breezy vibes.

Rizzio is a former resident of Nashville, but she currently resides on Cape Cod, Mass. She retreated to her former town last spring to record this project with some friends and some of the city's best musicians. Producer and bassist Michael Rinne and Rizzio tapped Mindy Smith, Maya de Vitry, Joe Pisapia (Guster), Will Kimbrough, Gwen Sebastian,Todd Lombardo, Spencer Cullum Jr. and Danny Mitchell (Miranda Lambert) and Eamon McLoughlin (The Grand Ole Opry). She wrote with several collaborators including Smith, Rinne, Sebastian, Aaron Raitiere, Carl Anderson and Massachusetts friends Mark Erelli and Hayley Sabella.

"Nothin'" captures perhaps a perfect Cape Cod day without a to-do list, reading Hemingway and sipping on a glass of wine. She proves the rocker "Story of My New Year." One of Rizzio's long-time friends, Smith; with whom she had never written with until now, penned and duets on "While With You," a love song full of catchy melodies. "The Shire," capturing the unique beauty of The Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, features scintillating electric guitar while "The Real McCoy" has some killer slide guitar, both from Kimbrough.

The last three songs center more on Rizzio's growing up in a small town in east Texas, where she learned to sing gospel hymns in church and received an education in classic country music. "Don't Keep Me Up Waiting" is a waltz while the ballad "Little Bit of Truth" has her reconciling evangelical childhood lessons with her current beliefs. On "Sunday," she examines a relationship gone wrong. Throughout her autobiographical songs Rizzio comes across authentically and has just the right mix of emotions to keep the listener engaged.