Question in two parts: what classic country artist originally recorded Beaumont Rest Stop? And which classic blues artist first recorded Honey on My Grave? Stumped? That’s because it’s a trick question. These two songs from Red Molly’s album Love and Other Tragedies are originals, but they sound immediately familiar. They have a classic quality to them. It is not quite true that they don’t write them like that any more, but it is notable when it happens.
Love and Other Tragedies has five originals, and they have this quality. There are two traditional songs. And the remaining six covers are all treated as classic material, even if the songs are by contemporary songwriters.
Red Molly is a trio. Abbie Gardner sings in a bluesy soprano voice; her main instrument is the dobro, but she also plays guitar at times. Laurie MacAllister also sings soprano, but with more of a country quality; her main instrument is the banjo, but she also plays guitar. Carolann Solebello sings in a warm, folkish alto, and plays mostly guitar, but also some bass and mandolin on one song. They bring in bass, mandolin, fiddle, and electric guitar as needed. So the sound is mostly acoustic, and the instruments might lead you to expect bluegrass, but that is only part of what happens here. Country is a strong influence, and Abbie Gardner brings a strong blues element into the mix. There is also one song, Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia, that has an Andrews Sisters feel to it. And Southern gospel completes the mix. One amazing thing about this album is the fact that Red Molly holds all of this together, by putting their own stamp on all of it.
The last song on the album is a good place to start appreciating how they manage it. The song is May I Suggest, by Susan Werner. Here the song is performed a cappella. In the course of three and a half minutes, Red Molly switches up the arrangement several times to make the song interesting to listen to. This can sound overly busy, but here the shifting harmonies serve the song, and also demonstrate that these are three women who know how best to use their vocal blend. In the same way, they show throughout the album that they know how to use their instrumental versatility to create the best arrangement for each song.
The lyrics of both the originals and the covers here are mostly sentimental musings and devotional proclamations, sometimes in the same song. This sort of thing requires that the performance put it over; otherwise it can sound alternately strident and mawkish. The singing and the playing must convince the listener that these feelings are real. Red Molly passes this test with flying colors. In particular, Wayfaring Stranger is a marvel. The song here stretches to almost six minutes, but never feels that long. Red Molly’s treatment is haunting and sincere.
Then there are those originals I mentioned at the beginning. Beaumont Rest Stop tells the tale of a daughter who left home some time ago, and is now coming back. I can imagine a full Nashville production on this one that would just destroy it. But here, I found myself having chills the first time I listened to it. That’s because Red Molly gives the song just what it needs, and because they believe in it. Likewise, Honey on My Grave is a song that could easily be overdone. Abbie Gardner asks someone to put honey on her grave after she is gone, with the thought that this will help her get to heaven. Her performance is bluesy, but not overdone. Her faith comes through, but she does not beat anyone up with it. And her bandmates match her perfectly in feel. That is what gives these songs and others here such a classic feel. I would also like to mention the song Summertime. This one is Carolann Solebello’s only original here and her only lead vocal. Solebello gives us a sweetly nostalgic look at a Kansas childhood from the point of view of a woman now living in New York City. She is perhaps the best person in the band to put this particular sentiment over, and she does so beautifully.
So I am thrilled to be presenting Red Molly to you my readers. Their next album is due in the spring, and with a little luck, I will be able to share that as well.
Red Molly: Beaumont Rest Stop
Red Molly: Honey on My Grave