If, like me, The Red Album released back in May is your first acquaintance with Red Molly, a vocal trio that has been around for a decade, we have missed a lot, but at least there is one consolation. We have ten years’ worth of what promises to be excellent music, a half dozen albums, waiting for us.
Red Molly—Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner, and Molly Venter—is an acoustic band that lives on the border of country and western and folk music. The ladies, often praised for their supple vocal harmonies, play a variety of instruments and write more than their share of impressive music. While five of the songs on The Red Album are covers, the rest of the 13 track set are originals by one of the Mollies. They clearly, each and every one of them, have a fine tuned sense of the kind of musical soundscape best suited to their aesthetic.
A tune like “Willow Tree,” written by Venter and Eben Pariser, could well have been a traditional piece handed down from generation to generation, it has both a musical and poetic authenticity. Venter takes the lead vocal and the others the harmony; Gardner plays dobro. On the other hand, a tune like Mark Erelli’s “Pretend” gives the trio an opportunity to show off their feel for the swinging Dixie vibe. MacAllister takes the lead on this one and trombonist Herb Gardner—Pops—makes a cameo. Gardner takes the lead on her gospel rocker “Lay Down Your Burden.” The ladies make sure to share the lead vocals.
They do an interesting arrangement of the Simon and Garfunkel hit, “Homeward Bound,” but it is their treatment of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” that is the highlight of album’s covers. And I guess that should be expected, after all as the liner notes point out, it is from this song which Gardner first heard in Del McCoury’s version at a Berkshire bluegrass festival as a child that the trio takes its name. Fittingly, each of the ladies takes the lead on one of the tune’s three verses.
Whether the dark “Clinch River Blues” which opens the album, the lullaby “Sing to Me” Molly sings with a tear in her voice, or the jumping “My Baby Loves Me,” The Red Album shows off the band’s variety. And for effect, they close with a beautifully harmonized a cappella version of “Copper Ponies.”