Mollie O'Brien possesses an amazing voice in a class companioned by very few others. In fact, the only comparative that comes right to mind is Joan Baez. O'Brien so easily demonstrates what a human voice is capable in a richly melodic context that innumerable nuances can easily be lost for the sheer dexterity of it all. However, such a climate only begs for repeat listens, in order that one assure oneself that such flawless artistry is indeed so bogglingly present. Rich Moore plays a fingerstyle guitar as far as I can tell, though I seem to detect plectrum work here and there. He also stands as the instrumental center for an aggregate of skillful sessioneers making this disc a feast of note perfect musicianship and interpretation.
The two wrote a couple of tunes (rather, Rich wrote one and then he and Mollie collaborated on another with a third party) but then opened an armoire full of extremely well selected works by others, including Tom Waits, Jesse Winchester, Harry Nilsson, and so on. Many of these tracks are quite earthy, as Richard Thompson's The Ghost of You Walks amply demonstrates, but, I rush to point out, with not a note of vulgarity (and please note that the word really means 'baseness' or 'lowness', not the 'foul-mouthed' it has come to substitute for; the derivation is in elder aspects of the eternal class war—check the dictionary, you'll see it) pervades anywhere; rather, a mature grappling with more than a few of the unspoken aspects of Eros predominates. Then there's the ravishing treatment of Winchester's Lonely for a While where O'Brien embodies Joanie, Edith Piaf, Judy Collins, Ute Lemper, and Christina Marrs (from the imperishable Asylum Street Spankers). Simply too marvelous for words.
You're unlikely to encounter another singer like this any time soon, and the music is seductive to a fault, half boozy with rustic sensibility and sensuality while timewarped in Weimar and other decadences, echoing Fitzgerald by way of Lightfoot before going country, gospel, and show. Most definitely a best of the year showcase contender for top honors, "Saints & Sinners" is a rare delight that re-pegs the mark in the same fashion as Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, Rickie Lee Jones' debut, anything by Baez, Janis Ian's At Seventeen, and a few other treasures the female voice has previously achieved. Miss it at your peril.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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