Shemekia Copeland has moved her recorded product to the TelArc label, has a new producer in Oliver Wood (who doubles on guitar), and pursues a style that seems more refined and less raucous or bawdy than on her previous recordings. The rough edges are shaved, maturity is settling in, and Copeland seems intent on doing things in a more traditional fashion rather than the stomping, tear-the-house-down approach she built her reputation on. She's using members of Col. Bruce Hampton's band in bassist Ted Pecchio and drummer Tyler Greenwell, occasionally bassist Chris Wood and keyboardist John Medeski from Medeski, Martin & Wood, guitarist Marc Ribot, and on loan from the Derek Trucks Band, keyboardist Kofi Burbridge for three tracks. These musicians liven up the proceedings considerably, and the production values of this effort are leaner and cleaner than her other discs. Copeland herself sounds incredibly focused and basic, far from slick but not dirty or messy on any level, and her themes reflect a current-life viewpoint that is part optimist and part cynic, with a big parcel of pragmatic realist.
From its Nagel cover to the haircuts and overall design – and first and foremost the music – Rio is as representative of the '80s at its best as it gets. The original Duran Duran's high point, and just as likely the band's as a whole, its fusion of style and substance ensures that even two decades after its release it remains as listenable and danceable as ever. The quintet integrates its sound near-perfectly throughout, the John and Roger Taylor rhythm section providing both driving propulsion and subtle pacing.