Abbie Gardner is one of the most distinctive dobro players in Americana. She has a seemingly effortless grace and otherworldly precision on an instrument that often bedevils other acoustic guitarslingers. Despite her vaunted technique, she plays with a remarkable economy of notes. She may be best known as a member of well-loved harmony trio Red Molly. but she had fearsome chops before she joined that band. Her new solo album DobroSinger is streaming at Bandcamp
As with her other solo records, almost all the tunes are originals. The opening number, Down the Mountain is a steady coal-mining blues. Gardner’s liquid chords contrast with her stiletto-articulate fingerpicking and slithery slide lines. She sings in an expressive down-home delivery equally informed by oldschool gospel, blues and front-porch folk music.
The second track, Only All the Time is more enigmatic, a stripped-down throwback to the alt-country sounds of the 90s. Gardner slows down for See You Again, part sophisticated blues ballad, part country waltz, with a spare, suspenseful solo on the way out. Born in the City has more of Gardner’s signature, silken legato: the gist of the song is that urban people stick together just as tightly as country folks do.
Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if the next song, Three Quarter Time was in, say, 7/8? It actually isn’t: it’s in 6/8! The intimate arrangement is an artful approach to what’s essentially a vintage Memphis-style soul ballad. Gardner digs in hard for a wicked but nuanced vibrato for a starkly original, grim take of Cypress Tree Blues. Then she flips the script with the wryly aphoristic Too Many Kisses, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook.
The brisk, bouncily swinging Honky Tonk Song is the one number here where an overdubbed rhythm track would have come in handy: the absence of a band isn’t an issue anywhere else. Gardner interrupts the playful mood for the stark, understatedly harrowing memoir When We Were Kids: in a quiet way, it’s the most stunning song on the album.
Gardner closes the record with a couple of covers. The first one is a spacious, pouncing version of Those Memories of You, a minor hit for Pam Tillis in the mid-80s. And Gardner reinvents the proto-Lynchian Jo Stafford hit You Belong to Me with a distant, uneasily dreamy feel. If you play guitar, there’s plenty of inspiration here for you to take your chops to the next level. If you don’t, it’s a characteristically sharp, smart Americana record.