Red Molly are a Roots/Americana trio originating from the upstate New York area. This is a band I’ve loved from the first time I heard them, though, surprisingly, they’ve never made a big impact outside of their home country. They have toured internationally and always draw a good audience, many of which go on to be committed fans, much like myself, and it always surprises me that they’ve never broken through in a big way. Perhaps that’s by design as much as anything else – these women seem too grounded and too committed to making their music to want to compromise enough for the celebrity machine.
The original line up of Abbie Gardner, Laurie MacAllister, and Carolann Solebello came together at the 2004 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, in Hillsdale, New York state. The three singers, songwriters and musicians were the last ones left at a song circle, liked the way they sounded together and the way their instruments complemented each other and decided to work together as a band. The band name is taken from one of the characters in Richard Thompson’s well-known song, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, though the band didn’t know it was a Thompson song at the time, having only heard the Del McCoury version!
All three were up-and-coming performers in their own right, having been writing and recording as individuals for some time, before meeting up. It was their ability to create intricate vocal harmonies that marked them out from the start, but the combination of Gardner’s fine slide dobro playing alongside Solebello’s guitar work and MacAllister’s intuitive bass and guitar playing, with the occasional banjo foray, meant they could also produce a compelling instrumental sound that worked particularly well with their harmonising voices.
The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival became a major talisman for the band. Not only was it the location of their coming together but it was the catalyst for their career as a band taking off. In 2006 they received the most votes in the Festival’s Emerging Artists Showcase, bringing them to the attention of audiences in the wider region and resulting in WUMB radio in Boston naming them Top New Artist of the Year and their debut live album, “Never Been to Vegas” as one of their albums of 2006. The following year they toured with the Falcon Ridge Preview tour and their career was really up and running.
The band recorded their debut studio album, “Love & Other Tragedies” in 2008 and it climbed to number 15 on the Americana chart in the U.S. The original line-up released one more album together, “James”, in the May of 2010. This album performed slightly better, making it into the top five of the same chart, before Carolann Solebello quit the band, in June of that year, to pursue solo projects. She was replaced by Molly Venter, a singer/songwriter based in Austin, Texas, who had already released four albums and had an established reputation as a solo artist before joining the band.
This new line-up really cemented the band’s reputation, particularly on the festival circuit. Venter brought a bluesier voice to the band, giving them an option for a slightly harder edge. They’d been predominantly known for more folk based material up to this point but the new line up seemed that bit more versatile and their repertoire now covered the full range of Americana styes. Their third album, “Light in the Sky”, which included contributions from both Solebello and Venter, was released in 2011 as the band continued to build their following.
It’s in live performance that this band really shines. Their albums are good but they never capture the fun of their live gigs and their easy rapport with an audience. It’s that ability to really win over a live audience that has seen Red Molly become darlings of the American festival scene and they’ve been four times featured artists at Merlefest, one of America’s biggest roots music festivals, as well as making regular appearances at the likes of Rocky Grass, Bristol Rhythm & Roots, Suwannee Roots Revival and many other festivals and events around the US and further afield. I was lucky enough to catch their last UK tour and they remain one of the most enjoyable bands I’ve witnessed live.
The band released just one more album, 2014’s “The Red Album” before announcing, in March of 2015, that they would be taking an “extended hiatus” to pursue solo projects. It seems that the balance between group and solo work has always been one of the problems the band faces. All three members have successful solo careers and are, understandably, reluctant to set them aside. As working musicians there’s also the consideration that solo touring is logistically easier to manage and, ultimately, likely to prove more lucrative and cost effective than moving a band around, much as they obviously enjoy working together. The band did re-unite in 2017 for a very successful U.S tour, adding additional musicians to the line up (Eben Pariser on electric guitar and percussion and Craig Atkin on upright bass) and proving as popular as ever. They also made their most recent recording as a band at the same time, an EP called “One for All and All for One” but have reverted to, mainly, solo work from that point. All three members of the band have released a number of solo albums in recent years and they all continue to write and perform regularly. The Red Molly website and Facebook pages are both still active and regularly promote the individual members of the band on their solo appearances but, at this point in time, there are no suggestions of any upcoming band shows.
Abby Gardner, Laurie MacAllister and Molly Venter are all talented musicians and performers who continue to draw audiences whenever they play, but there’s a magic that happens when the three come together as Red Molly. The breadth of their music and their easy way with an audience make them a great live act but the quality of their musicianship and those fabulous harmonies mean they’re equally impressive in the studio. Their albums are difficult to get hold of outside the U.S but are well worth snapping up if you can find them and there are plenty of examples of their work to be heard on YouTube and on the band’s website. If you haven’t heard Red Molly before then you owe it to yourself to listen to them now, because they’re a treat worth discovering. I haven’t given up hope that there’s more to come from the combined talents of these women – hopefully Red Molly will be back on the circuit sometime soon.