Rykarda Parasol – For Blood and Wine

Rykarda Parasol - For Blood and Wine

Singer-songwriter Rykarda Parasol self-produced and self-released her second full-length in the Fall of 2009 and it is a chef d’oeuvre that’s darkly infused with her strikingly foreboding to impassioned, low-range sing-talking vocals and bleak to spirited, poetic lyrics.

Rykarda, with her roughly elegant delivery, stalks with deliberate care through songs that range from intimate, starkly-rendered vignettes with delicate guitar strum and piano to rousing numbers with dynamic orchestration and male vocal chorale.  She changes from a delicate and vulnerable tone on the softer songs to an austere huskiness and low vocal range on the rockin’ numbers.

Rykarda radiates a commanding, world-weary presence, carving out a distinctive, self-described “rock-noir” story-telling niche that could also comfortably house the works of Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan, and Leonard Cohen. The devil-may-care “A Drinking Song” opens the affair with stinging guitar lines, short blasts of burnished horns, and a propulsive bass line.  Rykarda adopts a sinister attitude on the verses, imperiously intoning “While our beauty fades / they dig our graves / and some wicked end rushes right this way.”  The robust sing-along chorus rises and falls like a surging sea as Rykarda heartily wails away amid exclamatory, all-male vocals, sounding like a menacing Siouxsie Sioux commandeering a pirate’s brig.

The spare and sober “Widow in White” approaches from the opposite end of the sonic spectrum with delicate, melodic, complex piano notes and a gentle undercurrent of strummed guitar.  A subdued Rykarda sing-talks in a clear tone on the verses, then raises her voice on the chorus as she draws out the words  “I never thought about / what my life should have been / I don’t think about it now / I just keep on livin’.” against male backing vocals.

Rykarda switches tack on the sharp, but defiantly rousing “One for Joy!”, which was made for raising a glass of wine to with its pronounced drum beat, piano, percussion, and pulls of rusty strings.  Rykarda brusquely proclaims “One for joy and one for sorrow / One for the hand that takes mine tomorrow…” amid tambourine tap and a deep-tone male chorus.  At the tail end of the song she lets loose briefly, powerfully howling away in the background.

Two “bookend” instrumental laments are arranged near the middle of the album and towards the end of it, and they are actually one song split into two with their titles coming from Oscar Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Goal, the first being “For All Men Kill…” and the last being “…The Thing They Love”.  Poignant piano notes are struck as acutely longing, shivery violins ascend and descend.

That first instrumental bittersweetly leads to the reflective intro of the crowning jewel of the album, “Covenant”, a slow-burning, emotionally desolate epic.  The gravitas of Rykarda’s vocals show she is worn down, but a survivor and she’s supported by layers of breathy female vocals, slide guitar, slow drums, and cymbal tap.  She bares her emotions when declaring “He…pushed his hand through my hair and said / Wine and Blood are both red / and neither do a thing to me at all.”  The song deliberately builds to a breaking point where Rykarda passionately grieves, crying out with abandon, like she’s been physically wounded against a frisson of hard guitars, piano notes, and dreamier backdrop of female vocals.

The short, dainty, Serge Gainsbourg-like “Je Suis Une Fleur” is a lighter break from the rest of the album and is sung in French with a lyrical twist at song’s end, where Rykarda rhymes “orange” with “cheese” (well, it rhymes in French) to amusing affect.  “No Sir (Ain’t No Man Gonna)” is another measured-pace, lyrics-packed stunner that starts off with piano, discreet drum beat, brushed cymbals, and eventually strings, with Rykarda’s vocals imbued with a smoky ache that are on the verge of cracking as she exclaims on the mantra-like chorus “I said I cannot love you and that I mean / Ain’t no man gonna put a rope around me.” amid a backing chorus of low male vocals and tinkling music box notes.