Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Red Molly: “The Red Album” (2014) CD Review

One of my favorite songs of all time is Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” with the line “Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme.” The band Red Molly is named after that song, and on their new CD, The Red Album, they do an excellent cover of it. They do a few other covers on this release, including an interesting and pretty rendition of “Homeward Bound,” one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs. Their harmonies are wonderful.

Actually, their vocals are wonderful on all of these tunes. There is so much beauty on this album, much of it coming from their vocals, which drive these tracks. But there is a lot of beauty in the music as well, and in the lyrics. These songs are a great combination of folk and country (with some pop elements).

“Clinch River Blues”

The Red Album begins with “Clinch River Blues,” a track that grabs you immediately and doesn’t let go. It opens with a great pounding rhythm and excellent vocals. It has something of a tribal vibe and atmosphere. There is some gorgeous vocal play approximately two minutes in, and again at the end, which I love. This is a cover of an A.J. Roach tune, and they do a fantastic job with it. I actually prefer their version.

They follow that with “I Am Listening,” an original tune written by Molly Venter, who plays piano on this track. This song is so sweet and pretty. It’s about the excitement of new love, when you’re getting to know the person and all things are possible, but from the perspective of someone who has learned from past relationships. “In the past I always moved too fast/But I am listening now.” In that way it’s a more grown up approach to new love, but certainly the excitement is no less because of it.

“You Don’t Have The Heart For It”

“You Don’t Have The Heart For It” is one of those gorgeously, gloriously sad country tunes. It opens with a brief, beautiful a cappella section. Then when the band comes, it includes pedal steel, which I always appreciate. Abbie Gardner wrote this one and sings lead: “When we met I thought I’d never be alone again,” and then “You don’t have the heart for it/Of this I’m sure/If you ever loved me/You don’t anymore.” It’s so sad, because there is no explosive end to the relationship. It’s like it just drifts and fizzles out without any conclusion, which is so much harder, so much worse. This is one of my favorite tracks.

I love the energy of “Willow Tree.” It has a good rhythm, and nice guitar work, but it is the energy in the vocals that really makes this song special. It was written by Eben Pariser and Molly Venter.

“When It’s All Wrong”

“When It’s All Wrong” is my personal favorite track on this release. It’s a song that digs its claws into you immediately, and then just gets better and better. I love that groove, but of course it’s the vocals that really woo you. There is something undeniably sexy in the way they sing lines like, “Ever since that night I’m only right when it’s all wrong.” And then there’s even a delightfully ghostly whistle. I love, love, love this song. “If only you’d return/Then maybe I could learn/To sing a happy tune/And believe it’s true.” “When It’s All Wrong” was written by Abbie Gardner and Jonathan Byrd.

“Sing To Me”

“Sing To Me” is such a pretty and sweet song, with a wonderful intimacy. It’s a song that feels like the whole world is two people and one moment.  I’ve got nothing left/Still I cannot rest...So please use any means/To shift the way I’m seeing things/Darling, sing to me.” Listening to this song, you’ll find yourself instinctively reaching out for your love. And if that person isn’t right there, this song will make you miss her or him even more. This one was written by Molly Venter.

Mark Erelli

Red Molly does a great cover of Mark Erelli’s “Pretend.” They build from the delicious and playful old-time feel of Erelli’s original version. Their rendition even includes trombone, and there’s a wonderful instrumental section where that instrument takes the lead spot. That's Herb Gardner on trombone. I also love Laurie MacAllister's playful and delightful vocals.

Mark Erelli is a seriously good songwriter, and if you’re not yet familiar with his music, you should look him up. He included this song on his 2004 release Hillbilly Pilgrim.

“1952 Vincent Black Lightning”

They follow that with their cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” the song that gives the band its name. This is an inherently excellent song, but they do a particularly good job with it. Each of the three women takes a turn at lead vocals on this one (and I love how their voices blend, especially on lines like “Swooping down from heaven to carry me home” – absolutely beautiful). This is one of those songs that makes me happy while simultaneously bringing tears to my eyes.

Red Molly concludes this album with "Copper Ponies," written by Abbie Gardner, and sung a cappella to really showcase their wonderful vocals. It’s a sweet song, but also has a certain element of play.

CD Track List

  1. Clinch River Blues
  2. I Am Listening
  3. You Don’t Have The Heart For It
  4. Willow Tree
  5. Homeward Bound
  6. When It’s All Wrong
  7. My Baby Loves Me
  8. With A Memory Like Mine
  9. Sing To Me
  10. Pretend
  11. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
  12. Lay Down Your Burden
  13. Copper Ponies 

Red Molly is Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner and Molly Venter.

The Red Album was released on April 15, 2014.

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