If one word describes the new Red Molly CD, Light in the Sky, that word is joyous. Once again, with the "tick-tight arrangements, crystalline vocals and caramel harmonies" that the Boston Globe praised, Red Molly creates an album with gorgeous a cappella ballads, bluegrass-tinged folk and a touch of jazzy western swing, all done up in Red Molly's trademark three-part harmonies, signature dobro licks and inventive arrangements. The title sets the theme for the 14 tracks: optimism, joy, and excitement for the future.
Red Molly knows about optimism and joy. The band's fans, referred to as "RedHeads", have always responded to the sense that the band is a group of friends, sharing songs in their living room. That's exactly how it felt in 2004 when Laurie MacAllister (guitar, banjo, bass), Abbie Gardner (dobro, guitar) and Carolann Solebello (guitar, bass) sat around a campfire at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, singing and talking about their favorite songwriters. Knowing they had stumbled into something extraordinary, they formed Red Molly and spent the next seven years on the road.
From the start, the trio got attention with their lively, engaging stage performances. They moved quickly from NYC coffeehouses to the festival circuit in less than two years, winning notices for their performances at Merlefest, the Philadephia Folk Festival, and NPR's Mountain Stage. Between knocking out audiences from coast to coast, the trio found time to record three albums: Never Been to Vegas in 2006; 2008's Love and Other Tragedies, which spent ten weeks in the Top 15 on the Americana Chart, and 2010's James which logged four months in the Top 40 on the Americana Chart, peaking at #4, and landing at #23 in the year's Top 100. Last year, when founding member Carolann Solebello stepped down, MacAllister and Gardner asked Austin-based singer songwriter and guitarist Molly Venter to join the band. "Molly has a unique, edgy tone to her voice," MacAllister says. "Her sound is a bit pop-oriented, and while it hasn’t changed our overall sound, I'd say it's a bit more gutsy, upbeat and modern."
Light in the Sky is Red Molly's first release with the newest Molly. The trio, with engineer Mark Dann at the helm, collectively produced the album. Red Molly's instrumental prowess, sparkling harmonies and strong lead vocals of the individual members are evident throughout. The band also showcases their songwriting expertise with three solid original tunes and an inventive re-imagining of Robert Johnson's "Come On in My Kitchen". Gardner's co-write with Jonathan Byrd, "Oh My Michael", sounds like a traditional Irish ballad. Her dobro adds to the song's haunted sound, while her poignant lead vocal is remarkable for its subdued emotion. Abbie and her father Herb Gardner wrote "Hello Goodbye", a fun, funky tune with a hint of ragtime. The group's harmonies suggest the 40's swing of The Andrews Sisters. Venter's "Hold It All" is a grown-up lullaby, both graceful and insightful. Gardner tweaks Johnson's "Come On in My Kitchen" by adding a bridge that ups the song's emotional ante and by rewriting the lyric to make it a story of women supporting each other.
The group also puts their stamp on a collection of fine cover tunes. The album's opener, "Dear Someone", is a Gillian Welch/David Rawlings tune, given an impressive a cappella reading. The girls tip their hat twice to singer songwriter Mark Erelli, delivering a stunning cover of his power ballad "Ghost", and a fun rendition of his tongue-in-cheek "Why Should I Cry". Buddy and Julie Miller's "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" gets an acoustic honky tonk treatment with MacAllister's teardrop-in-the-throat vocal. "Fever", the Otis Blackwell/Eddie Cooley classic, features Venter at her finest in a performance that is both cool and sultry, supported by Craig Akin's upright bass and the trio's snapping fingers. In addition to Gardner and Akin, Red Molly is joined in the studio by Ben Wittman on percussion and Jake Armerding on fiddle and mandolin.
"We were in an optimistic mood going into the studio and I think that comes across in the music," Gardner concludes. "The album title could be about the sun, the stars, or looking forward to a bright future." Venter adds: "We're having so much fun as a band right now. We're excited to see what happens next!" Light in the Sky is set for release on October 4, 2011.