So many written pieces regarding Riva Taylor start with retrospection. They talk about her incredible achievements to date as Becky Taylor, the fact she was one of the youngest artists ever to be signed to a major record label, the fact that she’s toured with and supported major stars in this country like Alfie Boe or worldwide superstars like Barbra Streisand. See! It’s easy to fall into that trap, I can feel myself at the edge of that precipice. But, this recording is not about looking backwards, it’s not about being Becky. This album is very much the music of an artist that has grown from that successful girl to a woman with something new to say, there is personal retrospection for sure, even jealousy, but there is no regret. Riva has a new name, a new record and emotionally, musically she’s ready to “break it and rebuild”. This is about being Riva.
This incredible new release was always planned to be divided into two halves; the two halves of a broken heart ? Maybe, for there is plenty in the seven tracks released as part one of ‘This Woman’s Heart’ to suggest that the end of a relationship was a chimera moment for Riva. Artistically it was time for Riva to rise, Phoenix-like, from the figurative ashes of Becky and the results are nothing short of the sort of record that should be a career changer for one of this country’s hidden gems.
‘This Woman’s Heart’ starts with ‘Jealous’, a personal favourite of the artist, a song that stretches Riva and takes her into new territory. Written with Swedish songwriters Yaya and Peta Jeffress and recorded in Sweden too, this song deals with an emotion Riva is not used to feeling and it lays bare the catalyst of her new music. The video of the song shows two Rivas, one dressed in black, the dark heart of the first half of the album struggling with a Riva dressed in white, the light and optimism that the artist assures us is coming in the second half of the release, due for late Summer: a lighter heart. For me there are shades of Jack Garratt in the production which coupled with Riva Taylor’s strong vocals perfectly sets up the rest of the album.
Second track, ‘Chaos Killed The Thrill’, contains the most telling indication that the end of a relationship and the need to move forwards has driven Riva in her search for a new level in her music. The line, “we were never really whole”, is a powerful and strong assessment of why a relationship ends and the incantation of “break it and rebuild” could easily be applied to a heart, to her musical style or to the way she wants to move forward. Again the music video, a medium Riva gets very involved in, gives us images of her breaking free of people in her immediate space and casting free to stand tall on her own.
‘My Mouth’ is a song about a breakdown in communication wherever that may be. I get the feeling that whilst it could be applied to every human relationship, albeit work or personal, there’s something deeper here for Riva. Jonathan Quarmby, an English producer who has recently co-written four tracks on James Arthur’s number one album, has produced with real depth and the ballad, with its wonderful vocal range, feels like it really does come from this woman’s heart.
Title track ‘This Woman’s Heart’ comes next and illustrates the effortless power and sensitivity in Riva’s voice. The line “I’ve been hiding in this armour since my youth” gives us a hugely personal insight into why the artist has chosen a musical rebirth, in the form of Riva, to move away from music that had started to feel like the wrong fit going forward. In the accompanying video, she is being sketched, maybe redrawn, by artists as they look at her, swan like and serene in the middle of a studio, but the most telling insight is the subtitled instructions from the teacher. Maybe this swan has developed from the duckling of the past. A brilliant, moving track.
‘Let Go Too Soon’ begins with these words spoken by Riva:
“it’s a strange feeling ‘cos I thought I was there, I thought I was ready to let go and I still have these thoughts . I guess it’s only natural. It’s gonna happen in stages. Letting go a little bit is the easiest part hopefully. Do you ever fully let go, do you ever fully forget?”
This could almost be the backdrop of this half of the album. It completely describes that need to move forward but not to jettison completely the lessons of the past, even if they’ve been painful. Riva’s vocals in this really remind me of Sharlene Spiteri, lead singer of Texas, and the sentiment is that of being in a good place but not wanting to let go of the things that have come before too quickly. This is one of my personal favourite tracks.
The penultimate track, ‘Raining Tears’, is my favourite track on the album. Co-written with the brilliant Jamie Hartman, who many people might know as a songwriter who has written hits for Rag’n’Bone Man and Lewis Capaldi. For me he is the lead singer of Ben’s Brother who were and are a regular on any playlist I put together. The song has real soul and highlights that feeling of immediate heartbreak at the end of a relationship. It’s simple, soulful and has Riva looking like a young Monica Bellucci in the accompanying video in playful mood dancing around a pre lockdown France like a sixties film star.
The album ends, for the time being, with ‘Running At Walls’. Written with Starsailor’s James Walsh, it’s a poetic and powerful piece that ably displays the artist’s range as it builds in defiance with Riva insisting it’s “time to break our fall”. By the singer’s own admission “it’s a song about Autumn laying bare the reality of a situation that Summer has covered up” . The walls in question are the obstacles in a relationship and the song is about the need to change things when they will not change themselves; it’s a powerful song from an artist of power at the top of her game. The video for this release last year showed how Riva loves to weave dance into music. She grew up listening to and maybe just as importantly watching Kate Bush videos and the artistic approach she brings to her music via her videos make them all something that adds to the music, something her VHS mentor knew only too well.
The second half of the album ‘This Woman’s Heart’ is due towards the end of the summer and Riva suggests that it will be the lighter half of the heart. This album is certainly not downbeat, although it deals with deep issues; it is certainly not negative in it’s mood in that it has at its heart a defiant gaze to the future but not with out a look over the shoulder. I can’t recommend this release enough and personally can’t wait to hear the conclusion. This whole album has been almost two years in the making; Riva Taylor has travelled to write and produce with songwriters who she feels an affinity with. It’s very much a labour of love, it’s evidence that this particular Phoenix has well and truly risen from the ashes of her past and her new plumage is spectacular.