“It don’t cost no money, if your pockets are empty, sunshine is free.” It’s clear when speaking with singer-songwriter Monica Rizzio that she sees the bright side. Her new album, Sunshine Is Free, is all about doing just that: appreciating how the little things in life make it all worth it.
“Collaboration is really what connects these songs,” she says. “I lived in Nashville in the early 2000s; it was at those iconic open mics at 12th & Porter, Douglas Corner and The Bluebird Cafe when I first heard songwriters like Mindy Smith, Hillary Lindsey, and Elizabeth Cook. I learned a lot about songwriting from these women, and I wanted to get back to Nashville to harness my creative spirit and start co-writing.”
With a perspective equally influenced by her Texas roots and her Cape Cod home, Monica has emerged as one of the finest talents in the East Coast music scene. After a decade with Tripping Lily, a folk acoustic-pop band, she’s now embarked on a solo career that draws on her East Texas rust upbringing for a countrified Americana sound.
She released her debut album, aptly named Washashore Cowgirl, in 2016; where the album was Monica’s solo introduction, Sunshine is Free is her expansion -- after time spent on the road touring with Washashore Cowgirl, she realized it was time for her to start collaborating again.
Monica returned to Nashville’s Skinny Elephant Recording to record Sunshine Is Free over a week in April, along with producer Michael Rinne (Kelsey Waldon, Erin Rae, Caroline Spence). The album includes a stacked lineup of guest musicians including Mindy Smith, Maya de Vitry, Joe Pisapia (Guster), Gwen Sebastian (Miranda Lambert), Will Kimbrough (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell), Todd Lombardo, Spencer Cullum Jr. (Miranda Lambert), Danny Mitchell (Miranda Lambert) and Eamon McLoughlin (Emmylou Harris, the Grand Ole Opry) along with co-writers including Mindy Smith, Michael Rinne, Gwen Sebastian, Aaron Raitiere (A Star Is Born, Lori McKenna, Anderson East), Carl Anderson, Mark Erelli and Hayley Sabella.
The resulting eleven tracks focus on finding joy in simpler things; the title track, “Sunshine Is Free,” is an upbeat number that practically begs to be a summer staple. On “Nothin’,” Monica and co-writers Michael Rinne and Gwen Sebastian created a dreamy scenario for the perfect day without plans.
One of Monica’s inspirations from her early Nashville open mic days was Mindy Smith; though the pair remained friends from afar over the years, they had never written together until they penned “While With You.” It’s a tried-and-true love song full of mesmerizing melodies, written in an East Nashville AirBnB.
Growing up about a hundred miles outside of Dallas, Monica did what many people do in rural Texas: she learned to sing gospel hymns in church and received an education in classic country music with exposure to greats like Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Connie Francis and Dolly Parton. “Don’t Keep Me Up Waiting,” is a waltz inspired by years of spinning Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger album over and over.
The upbeat rocker “Story of My New Year” showcases Monica’s versatility as a singer and foreshadows the direction of Sunshine is Free -- as a new year rolls in, the future is boundless. “My Sweet Heart” is a love song guided by a desire to advise a younger self whose heart is aching.
Throughout Sunshine Is Free, it’s clear Monica has a keen ability to connect; her songs are often autobiographical, but delivered through a fictional approach that aids in creating a universal experience for the listener -- whether it’s expressed using her trademark sense of humor or with such striking honesty that the pain in her voice is tangible.
“Left with no choice to go my own way, out here looking for a little bit of truth,” she sings, and you can bet she’ll be happy to share the lessons she’s learned soon.
Quotes & Reviews
“Monica paints a picture and tells a story with her music. And not only is she a great musician, but it’s her voice that really draws you in and keeps you there. I look forward to hearing more music from her...”
-- RAUL MALO (THE MAVERICKS)
"Monica Rizzio's songs feel both rustic and refined, and she delivers them in a compelling voice that's equal parts tenderness and sass. She reminds me of a slightly duskier Nanci Griffith."
- MARK ERELLI
"I made the tactical error of inviting Monica Rizzio to share the stage with me at Symphony Hall and she went and stole the audience right out from under me!"
"She has reinvented the landscape with her unique voice and technicolor sound, redefining what has gone before. I am so glad she has washed ashore!
Monica Rizzio and Mindy Smith met in the early 2000s, but it's almost at the turn of another new decade that the Americana artists are finally co-writing. "While With You" is a love song that sinks into its soothing groove early, with beautiful mandolin-driven instrumentation filling the spaces between the layered serenity of Rizzio and Smith's vocal performance. The song represents the heart of Rizzio's upcoming album, Sunshine Is Free, so driven by the simple concept of the little things in life serving a healing, cumulative whole. "While With You" serves to this point by being precisely about lingering with the one that you love without necessarily actively pursuing any other goal, but being content....
Texas native Monica Rizzio has a heart to heart with her adolescent self on "My Sweet Heart," featured on her forthcoming album Sunshine Is Free (out on October 4). Penned by Rizzio, Michael Rinne and Gwen Sebastian, "My Sweet Heart" is a call to guard your heart and practice self-love. Rizzio says the song was written as a conversation with her younger self. "'My Sweet Heart' was written with the idea of giving my younger self some good 'ole solid advice," Rizzio says. "A song about the struggles of adolescence and the wear and tear on the heart. We all could have avoided a lot of headaches and heartaches but I guess we tend to think we know it all when we are younger."
Division in the U.S. is what led Monica Rizzio to unite some good pals -- Tom Rush, Patty Larkin and Mark Erelli specifically -- for her new single, "Lady Liberty," premiering exclusively below.....
HOW AN INDIE SONGWRITER CHARTED ON FOLK RADIO - By Chris Robley - CDBaby
"I met songwriter Monica Rizzio last year at the 1st DIY Musician Conference in Chicago, where we shared some ideas about crowdfunding (I’d just wrapped up a PledgeMusic campaign and she was about to launch one).In the months following, it’s been interesting to see how her campaign — and the album it brought about — took shape. From a marketing perspective, Monica hit all the right notes: good music, a story that makes an interesting hook for press, visual branding that enhances that story, advanced praise from some high-profile professional contacts, and more. One of the things that really interested me, though, was that in the month leading up to her album release her music was getting played a ton around the country and her songs were performing well on folk radio charts. I asked her a bit about the release of Washashore Cowgirl and the process of promoting her music, particularly to radio."
MONICA RIZZIO had to write this single back in 2017. She had something to say about the state of unity (or lack thereof) in the United States. She saw, as many of us did, the division that was being baked into politics, and the right into our cultural discourse. The breath of polarization was just starting to fissure some of the fabric of the country. Monica wanted to say that “we need to look at what America truly represents.....
"Monica Rizzio is a Washashore. Not only is she a Washashore, but she’s most definitely a Washashore Cowgirl. For those of you not “in the know,” a washashore is what born and bred Cape Codders call those who move there from anyplace beyond the Bourne Bridge, the bridge that connects the Cape to the rest of the state of Massachusetts. Monica’s roots are in Texas and was very much a cowgirl so it seems only natural that her upcoming debut solo album be calledWashashore Cowgirl. She’s a most talented multi-instrumentalist and songwriter; she’s on a journey to spread her music far and wide and may be washing ashore at a town near you any day now......."
BILL COPELAND MUSIC NEWS - Monica Rizzio shines with righteous zeal on Washashore Cowgirl CD
"Monica Rizzio’s first official solo CD Washashore Cowgirl is chockfull of great original country and country roots songs. Originally from Texas, this Cape Cod resident shows she can project plenty of her southern girl charm and sensibility into her original songs and standards. It’s who she is....."
RED LINE ROOTS - Roll With The Tide: Monica Rizzio Releases Washashore Cowgirl
"I don’t often like to look at an artist and think of their pedigree before listening to their music, but with Monica Rizzio and her latest record “Washashore Cowgirl”, its tough to do.Fronting a well established and engrained bluegrass band in the New England community and looking at the liner notes with a list of “who’s who” in the bluegrass realm (Sierra Hill, Mark Erelli, Brittany Hass and more) certainly helps add to the high expectations of a record. The former Tripping Lily front gal hung up her condenser mic for a more robust band line up and it certainly shows on this latest release............"
HEARTSTRINGS REVIEW: Album Review 5 STARS - Monica Rizzio's 'Washashore Cowgirl
"During her decade-long run in Tripping Lily, Monica Rizzio proved she could perform carefully composed folk tunes like few others in the Northeast. Though Rizzio’s talents were always apparent and it seemed natural she would want an opportunity to perform lead vocals on more than a few tracks out of an album, it was difficult to imagine her performing anything other than the delicate note-perfect type of music she had become known for. Washashore Cowgirl, Rizzio’s debut solo album, makes those expectations seem insulting and limited."
CAPE COD TIMES 'Washashore' Rizzio celebrates debut album - By Jim Sullivan
"Sometimes, you forget about the power a song can have. And then you get a reminder. Musicians live for moments like these......"