Red Molly with Jake Armerding, CSPS Cedar Rapids, IA

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CEDAR RAPIDS (April 6, 2014)

Letter to Carrie Rodriguez-tongue firmly in cheek.)

Dear Carrie,

I’ve carried a torch for you ever since I first saw you on stage at CSPS Hall here in Cedar Rapids a year ago. You have it all: the dark, wavy hair, the perfect black dress, the boots, the sultry voice, the exquisite fiddle playing, the songs that open doorways into the listeners’ soul.

What’s not to love?

But I’m afraid I’ve found someone else.

It’s not you: it’s me. I am a sucker for certain things. When I first laid eyes on Abbie (Gardner, of Red Molly) I saw the same things that got me hooked on you: the wavy hair, the perfect dark blue dress, the boots, the angelic voice. Then she picked up the Dobro.

A Dobro.

I’m sorry Carrie, but that did it for me. I was instantly smitten. You will always have a place in my heart (and on my play list). But, Abbie plays the Dobro!

The wavy hair, perfect black dress, cowboy boots, angelic voice and a Dobro.

What’s not to love?

Sincerely,

Rain

All kidding about my love-lorn fandom aside, I do have to point out that the members of Red Molly are three stunning ladies with a striking stage presence. Their beauty is icing on a great big layer cake of chocolate double fudge folk and country music goodness. The band, Carolann Solobello (vocals, bass) Abbie Gardner (vocals, Dobro) Molly Venter (vocals, guitar) have their act together with perfect vocal stylings, tight harmonies and just the right touch on their respective instruments. Whether performing an old standard such as “Fever”, a contemporary country song such as Dolly Parton’s “Do You Ever Cross My Mind” or one of their originals such as Abbie’s delightful “Hello Goodbye”, Carolann, Abbie and Molly nail it every time (OK there was the mixed up intro to one song…)

Their harmonies are especially seamless, rich, and, well, seductive (if you saw the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”, and that scene with the three sirens at the river? Yeah, it’s like that). My friend Gayle said Red Molly’s harmonies reminded her of “The Trio” performances by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. I think Gayle was wrong. As great as those three singers are, I think Red Molly’s harmonies are much better. I said they made me think of the Andrews Sisters. Gayle gave me a blank stare. (I’ve now come out as a classic Big Band nerd…) The Dixie Chicks came up too, but Gayle said comparing Red Molly to the Dixie Chicks would be unfair-to Red Molly.

I agree.

Aside from great harmonies, Red Molly really had their folk/country/classic Americana groove going Sunday night. I think the only reason people didn’t get up and dance, especially to swing numbers such as “Why Should I Cry?”, is because there wasn’t enough room. The wonderful volunteers at CSPS were bringing out extra chairs just before show time because of the capacity crowd.

Red Molly is currently touring with Jake Armerding. His fiddle and mandolin playing are a great addition to the trio, without being distracting. One of the things I like about Red Molly is they keep the instrumentation to a minimum, with simple chord progressions, bass lines and counter melodies that prove that “less is more” makes for great music. Their style of music could lend itself to displays of instrumental virtuosity (they play a lot of classic songs that are showcases for talents such as Doc Watson). The girls avoid that, emphasizing their vocals, both as soloists and in their delightful harmonies. Jake knew how to fit perfectly into this style, keeping a low profile even when he could have shown off during a solo. He kept the song in mind, rather than his own playing.

Jake also opened for the girls. He played a short set of original material, my favorite being “Favorite Person”, a soaring love song to his wife. She must be quite a woman, because not only did she inspire a great song, but as Jake said, she doesn’t mind Jake touring with three gorgeous women. I also liked his homage to The Beatles “Catchy Paul and Dreamy John”. The song is a very personal ballad using references to various songs to trace the history of the two highest profile members of the Fab Four. If it sounds trite, it’s not: the way Jake has woven the lyrics, allusions to song titles and events in the lives of Paul McCartney and John Lennon evokes thoughts of how Paul Simon might write on the same subject.

This was Red Molly’s first performance in Iowa. They were obviously thrilled to be here in Cedar Rapids, and shared their appreciation of the audience by commenting that they were more like a “Saturday night crowd” and if they were like that on a Sunday night, they wanted to come back on a Saturday to see what it would be like. When Red Molly does come back to CSPS Hall, be sure to buy tickets as soon as they are available, because I doubt there will be any seats available by show time

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