Michelle Riu isn't exactly what one might expect of a local singer/songwriter. There are no syncopated salsa rhythms or thumping reggaeton bass lines here. Instead her Cuban ancestry fuses with Southern sensibilities, making her songs a welcome addition to the often-nebulous pop-country genre. Her thick, smoky warble is evocative of Joss Stone; her twangy inflection reveals the influence of Patsy Cline; and she occasionally employs a Susan Tedeschi growl for texture. Her debut CD, Up Down and Strange, began as a collection of songs and spoken-word performances intended for a much smaller group of listeners. "I always did music and poetry as a kind of therapy," Riu laughs. "I wasn't hustling it in any way. I just performed for family and friends."
Because of the encouragement of her close-knit circle, Riu began sharing her work with larger audiences. Her song "Brand New Haircut" struck a chord with Ferny Coipel of Humbert. Coipel wound up coproducing the album, and an impressive amalgamation of other local talent also contributed. Derek Cintron and Tony Medina of DC-3 play drums and guitars, and Michael Mut, from Latin rock group Rhett y los Borrachos Empeñados, brings his bass-playing skills to the table. "When I had musicians of their caliber getting excited about my music, it helped to give me the confidence to take it to the next level," explains Riu.
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With pretty blond looks, Riu could easily lapse into clichés about men, love, and being an object of desire. Instead she explores the darker recesses of heartbreak and the significance of carving out a strong female identity. "When I listen to the music, it's like mending wounds. Like self-empowerment as a woman. The feeling is like, I'm just tired of trying to please everybody," the up-and-coming artist explains. Riu is excited about the debut of her CD, which will be available through Amazon.com and CDBaby.com. She is even more excited about the venue for her CD-release concert. "I wanted to do it outdoors at Bayside because I wanted to be accessible to people of all ages. I wanted it to feel like a community. I want people to come out, celebrate, and support local artists," she says.