Red Molly’s Light in the Sky – Their Best Album?
The three women of Red Molly – Abbie Gardner, Laurie McAllister and Molly Venter – blend their voices magically throughout a mix of seemingly every style of of Americana roots music from the past century and before then. To call their latest album Light in the Sky their best does an injustice to their others: they’re all good. The first question that springs to mind about this band is, why aren’t they playing Madison Square Garden? While it’s not like they usually play small rooms – the big room at Rockwood Music Hall, where they are this Thursday the 17th at 7:30, is as small as they get, and that’s probably only because it’s a hometown show in the midst of a big tour – Red Molly would resonate with a worldwide audience. Sure, Light in the Sky was the #1 most added album by radio “folk dj’s” during the past month – but how many of those are there? A few hundred? A thousand? The Dixie Chicks had their run; it’s Red Molly’s turn.
As with their previous release, they’ve got a band behind them here – which doesn’t come in until after the dreamy, gorgeous, three part oldtimey harmonies of their version of Dear Someone. They follow that with the determined pulse of Walk Beside Me, a gospel/bluegrass blend with Gardner’s stinging dobro and McAllister’s bracing Appalachian violin. Come On In My Kitchen gets freshly and cleverly reinvented, with funky organ. If you’re convinced that Robert Johnson’s version is a classic that can’t be beat, you have to hear the way they play up Gardner’s “oh the wind howls” bridge into an organ solo – it might not exactly be delta blues, but it’s awfully fun.
A banjo tune, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind has a vintage Carter Family vibe with better production values and more of that sweet violin. They follow that with Oh My Michael, a stark, Celtic-flavored fisherman’s widow’s lament. The best song on the album is a darkly bristling, bluesy version of Buddy and Julie Miller’s Does My Ring Burn Your Finger. “Just wait here in the dark, my dearly departed,” McAllister sings with a wounded menace at the end.
Hello Goodbye isn’t the Beatles tune: it’s a jaunty, ragtime-flavored original, Gardner’s soaring dobro trading off with her dad Herb Gardner’s pre-Prohibition piano. With balmy muted trumpet, It’s Too Late to Call It a Night is an irresistibly charming, lushly slinky bourdoir swing tune; by contrast, Why Should I Cry has a resolute western swing edge. There’s also a couple of casual, swaying Americana-pop songs, Ghost and Hold It All; a couple of country gospel tunes, Your Long Journey and a brisk remake of Gillian Welch’s By the Mark; and a similarly upbeat version of Fever that’s closer to Elvis irrepressibility than Peggy Lee mist, just the trio harmonizing over fingersnaps and Craig Akin’s bass. As usual, Red Molly cover all the bases: there’s something for fans of pretty much every Americana style ever invented here.