Only A Story
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Every now and then, you come across an album like this. At first listening, one particular aspect of the recording grabs you - in this case, it's the voice of Nancy McCallion; a rich, full alto with just enough fragility for you to think it will break, maybe on the next note, but it never does. Then, at each playing, you come to another layer and hone in on the next level - the melodies, the lyrics, the arrangements, the production... |
Musically, the Mollys are impossible to categorize as they glide from their basic folk/acoustic sound and touch on country, Mexican, Cajun, blues, and swing, among others. On each song, McCallion takes on a new persona, singing with heart about love, pregnancy, smuggling and more, not necessarily your usual subjects.
As lead vocalist, McCallion is the obvious focal point of the band. Also, she is responsible for writing or co-writing all but one of the 13 cuts. In addition, she plays a competent guitar and adds to the band's diverse sounds with harmonica and whistle. But taking such a prominent role does not result in the album sounding homogenous. Each track has its own character, more fully aided by the musicianship of fellow band members Catherine Zavala, Kevin Schramm, Dan Sorenson and Gary Mackender.
The Mollys include mandolin, fiddle, accordions, bouzouki, steel, banjo, bass and percussion in their playing, while a handful of guests add even more to the already rich sound. Yet there is no clutter---everything is in its place. When a fiesta sound is needed, trumpets are there. A lap steel warmly envelopes you, while a fiddle cries on a sad country song. An accordion growls on a coal miner's lament. There is something to fit every situation.
This Arizona-based band has carved its own brand of music based on a wide range of styles, yet it manages to keep continuity in their sound. The production is crisp and clean, allowing the voices to tell their stories and the instruments to add a colorful, deep backdrop.
Unfortunately, Youngest Daughter, the only instrumental on the album, is tame and lacks the punch of the preceding songs. That song is followed by one of those annoying delayed endings. That is a small complaint, however, for such an excellent original album.
Sadly, it appears that Zavala (mandolin, vocals and fiddle) and Mackender (drums, percussion and vocals) have left the band since the release of Only A Story. But that doesn't change the appeal of their last recording together and I hope their replacements will add as much as the departed members have done here.