Mollie O’Brien is the sister of Tim O’Brien, whose wonderful fiddle playing we heard with my review of Rachel Harrington’s latest album. Mollie and Tim performed as a duo for many years, and made several albums together, before Mollie went solo. Rich Moore is something of a secret. While Mollie O’Brien toured and built her career, husband Moore stayed home and raised the children.
So here are Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore performing as a duo live, just voice and acoustic guitar. This might sound like a vanity project. One could easily turn away, assuming that, if Moore had any talent, you would have heard of him before now. Don’t make that mistake. With such a spare arrangement, there is no place for either the singer or the guitarist to hide, but none is needed.
This album is actually my introduction to the singing of Mollie O’Brien. I should never have waited so long. O’Brien is a wonderful singer, who is particularly fine with the blues. She can sigh and moan with the best of them, using quiet voicings to convey intensity. But she can also belt out a blues shouter like nobody’s business. She can sometimes combine all of this in a single song. She brings out all of the emotion in a song, without ever going too far. Each song gets just what it needs. Some of her vocal performances here surpass the originals, which is the highest complement I can pay to an album of all covers.
The playing of Rich Moore is a major discovery. He uses a variety of blues styles on an album of ten songs. He supports O’Brien’s vocals with a great sense of rhythm, and he can vary the backing within a song, to enhance the mood shifts in O’Brien’s singing. When he steps out for solos, Moore stays within the context of the song. His solos impress, but they are not showboating. Moore builds his solos on single note runs, with occasional use of two strings at a time, for flavor. Everything else drops out, but he never loses the beat. Then, as he winds up each solo, Moore goes right back to the chording he was using before, and he settles right back into the groove without even a stutter.
900 Baseline is not an album of blues classics. O’Brien and Moore do cover two songs by Memphis Minnie, but they also find blues in the rhythm and blues of Percy Mayfield, in the work of A P Carter of the Carter family, and in a song by Malvina Reynolds. Reynolds’ No Hole in My Head is a standout track, a particularly emotional work on an album full of emotion.
And I am very impressed with the lead track, Looking For Trouble. Steve Goodman is thought of as a humorous songwriter and performer, who also could work wonders with a sensitive folk song like TheDutchman. Fewer people know that Goodman wrote songs that showed his great love of the blues. Goodman’s delivery was such that he could never present himself as a blues singer. So it takes a performance by O’Brien and Moore to show just how great a blues song Looking For Trouble really is.
O’Brien and Moore also want us to know that they can do more than just blues. Lark in the Morning is rendered as the kind of folk music that Joan Baez did early in her career. This is the only song Moore sings on, doing background vocals. Now at Last is a more dramatic type of folk ballad. And the album closes with Somebody Else’s Fire. This is an old Janie Fricke tune, here given an 80’s rock treatment. All of this works just fine, demonstrates O’Brien and Moore’s versatility, and avoids breaking the mood of the album as a whole.
So this album is a new favorite of mine. I have just one complaint. The album has ten songs, and clocks at just under 35 minutes. It is too short! I was definitely left wanting more.
Mollie O‘Brien and Rich Moore: Lark in the Morning
Mollie O‘Brien and Rich Moore: No Hole in My Head