New York folk trio Red Molly is entering a new phase in its music and career.
Since guitarist Molly Venter joined guitarist and banjoist Laurie MacAllister and dobro player Allie Gardner in August of last year, the band has been re-examining its sound. The band has been known for its rich three-part harmonies and folk/pop combination since forming in 2004 at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, and now with Venter, the group is coming at its old material with a new approach.
“I think trying to bring her up to speed on the old songs and also put a whole bunch of new songs into the set has helped us focus on, what is our sound, what are we going for?” Gardner said recently from her home in Jersey City. “People really love the three-part harmonies, so we’ve delved a little deeper into that and found some more interesting notes when we were rearranging some of the old songs.”
with Pat Wictor
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Eighth Step, GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
How Much: $22 (doors); $20 (advance)
More Info: 346-6204, www.proctors.org, www.eighthstep.org
Venter, who replaced founding member Carolann Solebello, has brought her own unique singing style and songwriting talents to the group. So far, the change has been a positive experience for the band and its fans.
“Her voice is really distinctive, but it really blends well with ours while also having its own flavor,” Gardner said. “Most fans have told us the same thing — that they love the old sound, but they like the new sound even better. That’s really nice to hear.”
Last month, the band released “Light in the Sky,” the follow-up to 2010’s “James” and Venter’s first studio recording with the group that showcases the band’s new sound. The album, featuring originals and covers from artists such as Robert Johnson and Mark Erelli, recently hit No. 13 on the Americana Music Association’s Top 40, coming in between two of the band’s influences, Tom Waits and Gillian Welch.
The band has been showing the record off at its live shows, playing it in its entirety at each show since the release. They’ll be doing the same when they return to The Eighth Step at Proctors on Saturday night.
“We’ve never done that before,” Gardner said. “I think because we’ve been touring for a year with the older albums that didn’t have Molly on it, we were really eager to put out this album and share it with everybody in a really complete way.”
Although a handful of the songs were part of the band’s live sets before the album was recorded, most of them are being reworked for the road. The album features full-band arrangements with drums, bass and fiddle, but live, the trio sticks to acoustics.
“When it’s live, it is just us three and there aren’t any fiddle solos, so they end up being dobro solos because that’s what we have,” Gardner said.
At least one new song, Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” which closes out the album with a flourish of funky jazz, gives Gardner a chance to experiment — instead of her usual dobro, she plays stand-up bass on the song. She’s also been introducing banjo into a number of songs.
“How we first started performing it — we learned it for an Alaska tour, basically because we needed more songs,” Gardner said.
Taking the bass part
“Molly is singing lead on it, and Laurie has the harmony, so I figured I’d just take care of the bass part, even though I’m not really the bass player in the band. I’m just finally learning to play it and sing at the same time, sing my third harmony parts. It’s fun, and just for that one song it’s refreshing to play something else.”
The band recorded the album in New York City with engineer Mark Dann. Recording progressed quickly, with all of the music performed live, which allowed the trio to focus more time on the vocal tracks.
As usual, all three members contributed covers and originals to the album — Gardner wrote or co-wrote two of the album’s three original tracks, “Oh My Michael” and “Hello Goodbye.” Although the band will tackle music from any genre, from standards to country to pop and rock, not everything works.
“A while back we tried a Patty Griffin song called ‘Trapeze,’ ” Gardner said. “It’s a beautiful song, and on her recording Emmylou Harris sang the harmony. We tried it, and it was fine; we did a fine version, but we couldn’t bring anything new to the song itself. We didn’t take it in a different direction, so we didn’t feel a reason to keep doing it.”
For Red Molly, finding songs that they can put their own unique spin on is a key element to whether or not they will play that song.
“We’re really big on arranging songs, bringing out whatever it is about a song that’s special,” Gardner said.
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