Celebrating their tenth anniversary they may be, but I have to own up to never having encountered the New York harmony trio Red Molly of Abbie Gardner, Laurie MacAllister and, since 2010, Molly Venter before now. Clearly my loss.
Their fifth studio release The Red Album and the first to be recorded in Nashville, it’s also apparently the first to put the emphasis on self-penned material with eight of the 13 numbers being written by either Venter or Gardner. That being said, it begins with a cover in the form of A.J. Roach’s Clinch River Blues driven on hand-clap rhythms with stomps courtesy of producer (and original Wilco drummer) Ken Commer and MacAllister on earthy lead vocals.
The first original number comes with I Am Listening, Ventner taking lead on a song dating back some five years, a carefree waltzer and the first she ever wrote on piano. It’s followed by Gardner’s more honky-tonk tuned, pedal-steel backed You Don’t Have The Heart For It before, hinting slightly at a Jolene rhythm, Willow Tree’s love story is Venter’s co-write with Eben Pariser.
Reworked with Jonathon Byrd, Gardner’s When It’s All Wrong has a Tom Waits-like bluesy cabaret feel she describes as a ‘creepy zombie jam’, her other two contributions closing things up with the Motown gospel feel of Lay Down Your Burden and, in complete contrast, the a capella three part harmony Copper Ponies with its echoes of the 1940s.
Venter has two other cuts, and these are equally contrasting, My Baby Loves Me pure 60s soul with a Nashville dressing while Sing To Me is a gentle wearied lullaby with Craig Akin on bowed bass.
Harking back to their former reliance on covers, the rhythm-scuttling With A Memory Like Mine is a Darrell Scott tale of war, fatherhood and loss featuring upright bass and McAllister on lead, as she is on Mark Erelli’s Western Swing shuffling, trombone fattened Pretend.
If neither of those songwriters ring any bells, the remaining two covers will be rather more familiar. McAllister again takes lead on a lovely version (if perhaps a little less despairing than the original) of Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound with Gardner’s dobro put to good use while the trio all take a verse each for the song from which they took their name, Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, here influenced by Del McCloury’s bluuegass arrangement. You may not be persuaded that they’re biker gals, but, it’s a fine version all the same.
Now excuse me, but with four other albums not to mention seven different solo releases, I’ve a bit of catching up to do. You might like to join me.
Review by: Mike Davies
The Red Album is released via Red Molly Records on September 8, 2014.
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