Reviving the Rhythm with Riishi Von Rex

By Alex James — Thu, 21/05/2015 - 14:37

This Friday, Ottawa gets treated to a special night when local enchantress Riishi Von Rex unleashes her new EP Shed Your Helmet to an innocent (well, mostly innocent) crowd of onlookers.   Normally an RVR (Riishi Von Rex) show would be reason enough to get one off the couch, but a chance to experience an EP release event charged by a set of newly invigorated material is bound to be one for the books. In her distinct brand of ‘Riishi Von Rock’, Von Rex (guitar and vocals) blends the best of blues, ska, punk and soul with undertones of western-swing revival and Eastern European influences. The feel of Von Rex’s music is authentic and spellbinding with the power to conjure up places and scenes previously only existing in our minds. Whether it’s a smoky desert town bar, the stone medieval theatre of a gothic fort, or the set of a film Noir movie, with captain Von Rex at the helm it’s always worth the price of admission. The 2012 addition of Michel Delage on drums and vocals has made the songs on the new EP compellingly progressive. The dynamic interactions between the two are truly representative of a joining of forces, even leading some to speculate that the dauntingly versatile Von Rex, may have finally met her musical match.

Despite some of the material on the new EP having been present on an earlier 2009 EP record, the current incarnation of the RVR duo, marked by the presence of Delage on drums and back-up vocals, has blown the old material wide open. “Joining forces with Delage in 2012 brought so much to the material that it feels, for me, like an entirely different project,” explained Von Rex “And while there is a mix of newer and older material on it all the songs felt new to me with Michel's input and creative force pushing them in new directions.”

The new EP starts off with the RVR fixture Baba Yaga, previously performed solo and with earlier incarnations of the band, and is given new life once again under Delage’s driving beats. By introducing and combining styles and rhythms one wouldn’t think would work, the song is given more space to explore, the lyrics more room to breathe and in fact brings the crowd favourite to a whole new level.  If you didn’t catch the ‘winks and nods’ to comedic allusions in the first track, the catchy and fun Cartoon Violence makes it clear that this band has a mischievous sense of humour, or perhaps a humorous sense of mischief. The song starts out as a strung out surfer tune, but quickly evolves into a playful ska review demonstrating the skill, confidence and versatility of the musicians in this particularly well refined song. The following two tracks Animal Too and Enough are what Von Rex describes as “straight-forward confessionals”. The former has Von Rex shedding her human skin to declare herself an ‘Animal Too’ in a trans-morphing tale that truly gets under your skin. While the sizzling sultry beginning of Enough introduces an unapologetic croon that swings through the blues and back out the other side with a punkish posture that could easily invoke more than one headbang.

Now as someone who has sat in many a bar listening to live music, I can attest that at some point in the setlist, especially with duos, every song can start to sound the same. Reading a description of RVR’s music, one may think that with so many styles merged together, and a core of only two members (drums and guitar no less), the result would inevitably be chaotic or unfocussed if not simply plain and repetitive. This could not be further from the truth. It is not every day you get a collection of musicians and performers who (although they can stand alone and draw big crowds) join together and effectively retain each musicians’ style in a way that is cohesive but not stifling, allowing each ‘role’ to be properly displayed in its best light. The album’s namesake and finale is the perfect example of this. Shed Your Helmet showcases RVR’s temporary additions of Andrew Bryant and his ‘ominous five –string base’ and the raw and crunching roar of Richard Page’s Saxophone. This song has it all, an uncontainable drum beat that accentuates and satisfies a strong melody with integral lyrics, ripping through time signatures and tempo changes with a poise of shameless adventure usually reserved for electronic DJ’s.  The chorus converges on a heavy rock riff with the robust sax and solid bass anchoring the music so the audience can easily sway along, close their eyes and nearly smell the ‘old time speak-easy backroom parlour’ that this song summons up. The final song, much like the entire EP, takes you on a journey through genres  and emotions, leaving you at the end with the feeling “so...that just happened”, while you are left to pick up the pieces of what you thought you’d hear, and place your jaw back on its hinges.

Von Rex commented briefly about the collection of songs on Shed Your Helmet: “We were aiming for something that held together as one but still meandered off its own path a little...the album, for being just five tracks, is a fairly diverse example of what we do and how we do it.”

The work of Eric Eggleston, co-producer on this EP, cannot be overlooked and surely represents a shinning success in his recording efforts. The sound is crisp, the levels perfect, and the ever so hard to capture character and mood of each song are featured in a way that highlights their strengths, and honours the quality of the material. The strong expressive vocals and exciting artistic chemistry between Von Rex and Delage is magnetic, the product, inspired. The music is strangely nostalgic, even for newcomers. So come out on Friday night to Rainbow Bistro and see Riishi Von Rex again, for the first time. Treat yourself to a night that is sure to be memorable, support your local artists, and get yourself a copy of the new EP so you can sing along when RVR takes the stage at Bluesfest this July.

Riishi Von Rex Album Release
Friday, May 22, 2015 @ 8:30pm
Rainbow Bistro
$10 or $15 for admission + a CD

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