Red Molly at the Unitarian Fellowship
In 2011, Oregon audiences were introduced to Red Molly when the group played the Sisters Folk Festival.
It was such a hit that year that the festival brought the band back for the first show of its Winter Concert Series in 2012. This is nothing unusual. Since 2004, Americana trio Red Molly has brought audiences to their feet with gorgeous three-part harmonies, crisp musicianship, and the members' warm, engaging stage presence.
Rogue Valley fans will get to experience Red Molly when it performs on Sunday, Jan. 12, at the Unitarian Fellowship, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. Joining Red Molly as its special guests will be husband and wife acoustic folk duo Anne and Pete Sibley.
The band's fans, referred to as "RedHeads," always respond 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 the group — then consisting of 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 onto something extraordinary, they formed Red Molly and spent the next seven years on the road.
From the start, the trio got attention with its lively, engaging stage performances. The group moved quickly from NYC coffeehouses to the festival circuit in less than two years, winning notices for its 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 10 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 No. 4, and landing at No. 23 in the year's Top 100.
When founding member Carolann Solebello left the group in 2010, MacAllister and Gardner asked Austin-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Molly Venter to join.
"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."
Red Molly's fourth CD, "Light the Sky," was released in October 2011 and is populated with the "tick-tight arrangements, crystalline vocals and caramel harmonies" that earned the group the praise of the Boston Globe. The trio 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.
"Light in the Sky" is Red Molly's first release with Venter. The trio's instrumental prowess, sparkling harmonies and strong lead vocals of the individual members are evident throughout. The band also showcases its songwriting expertise with three solid original tunes. The Gardner-written "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. "Hello Goodbye" — which Gardner co-wrote with her father, Herb — is a fun, funky tune with a hint of ragtime. The group's harmonies suggest the '40s swing of The Andrews Sisters. The Venter-penned "Hold It All" is a grown-up lullaby, both graceful and insightful.
The group also puts its 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. Gardner also tweaks Robert Johnson's "Come On in My Kitchen" by adding a bridge that ups the song's emotional ante and rewriting the lyrics to make it a story of women supporting each other.
Red Molly is currently gathering material for its fifth CD, to be released in 2014.
"We were in an optimistic mood going into the studio, and I think that comes across in the music," Gardner says. Venter adds: "We're having so much fun as a band right now. We're excited to see what happens next!"
Tickets are available at www.gaiaconcerts.com and the Music Coop, 268 E. Main St., Ashland. Prices are $18 in advance and $20 at the door.