Red Molly,
The Red Album
(independent, 2014)

This time around, Red Molly continues to stretch the boundaries, going well beyond the all-female folk trio sound they pioneered so successfully. Their songwriting has gotten even better and their playing, always excellent, has also deepened -- Abbie Gardner has developed into one of the best dobro players in the United States and Molly Venter's rhythm guitar playing has grown stronger and much more confident. Their three-part harmony singing blends into a unity, sounding like one entity instead of three voices joining forces.

On their last album, they used a drummer for the first time. Since they apparently liked the way that worked out, they continued with the use of a rhythm section here, but take it a step further, including the judicious use of horns and keyboards and the occasional electric guitar. All of it works out well, adding an additional layer of carefully cultivated depth to the trio's sound, without distorting it or turning it into something it isn't.

And how are the songs? Great. They range from the bluesy Abbie Gardner-Jonathan Byrd composition "When It's All Wrong" to Venter's country rocker, "My Baby Loves Me" to the bluegrassy "Willow Tree" to the western wing of "Pretend." Red Molly has always chosen good cover material to supplement their originals, and this time out, they've peaked: Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound" becomes a folk lament as they interpret it in a way that brings out all of the homesickness, all of the longing to be in a safe place. It's a gorgeous arrangement of a fine song. Also gorgeous is their interpretation of Richard Thompson's "1952 Black Lightning," from which they took their name. I could not imagine this song done by a group of women until I heard it. Now it seems such a natural fit that I can't imagine them not singing it.

Here's the way it works out: Red Molly has never disappointed -- they specialize in strong albums that top the Americana charts -- but with The Red Album, they have hit a new peak.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

23 August 2014

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