What's not to love about an all-female trio singing roots music in three-part harmony? A decade after forming, the New York City-based Red Molly has been picking up momentum lately, opening for Willie Nelson, touring Australia, and in May releasing a potential breakout fourth album, The Red Album.
It's surely the trio's most dynamic and adventurous album to date. With more emphasis on electric guitar, effects-laden Dobro, piano and other rhythmic elements, it has a more visceral, sultry air than past efforts.
"We can attribute a lot of that to our producer, [Uncle Tupelo/Wilco drummer] Ken Coomer," says guitarist/vocalist Molly Venter. "He kind of shook us up and said, 'Why don't you try this, and let's try stomping, and let's try clapping.' He opened us up to the possibilities."
The album features eight originals — their greatest number ever — along with well-chosen covers like Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound" and the tune from which the band gets its name, Richard Thompson's iconic "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."
"It was definitely a conscious point to have more originals," Venter says. "If you're going to sing it night after night, year after year — and it meant something to you when you wrote it — that makes it easier to keep it special."
Originals include the swampy, atmospheric blues-stomp of "Clinch River Blues" and a simmering, bluesy torch song called "When It's All Wrong." Many of these tracks could easily fit on an adult-pop channel between Ingrid Michaelson and Regina Spektor.
As Venter recalls it, there was still a degree of uncertainty at the time. "Every once in a while we'd go, 'Do you think this is too much for a folk band?' 'Nah it's great, we like it.'"
Venter joined bandmates Abbie Gardner (Dobro) and Laurie MacAllister (bass), after she and Gardner met up at a 2008 songwriting retreat in Colorado. All three musicians have toured as solo artists, and still bring songs to the group pretty fully written.
The newly wed Venter explains that, for her, it's easier writing with her husband, who's also a musician. "I think women tend to be like careful with each other, a little delicate and kind," she says. "With my husband it will be, 'No! That's crap.' There's a back-and-forth and you're really, really honest."
Gardner also recently wed. Their two husbands play together in the Brooklyn five-piece Roosevelt Dime, which crash Big Easy soul into Appalachian country for a sound they call Mardi-Grass. (Yes, that's now a thing.) The two bands recently played a show together, which could lead to more.
"That was so frickin' fun," says Venter, who expects the collaboration will continue as a side project. Meanwhile, Red Molly continue to build upon the harmonic foundations with increasing originality.
"We each bring different strengths to the band and the work, and all do different things creatively," says Venter. "We all feel very lucky, and the longer we're together, the more fun we have."