Mollie O’Brien and her husband, Rich Moore, have been fixtures in the Denver music scene for more than 30 years. And though they have released several albums over the years (culled from their many live gigs) Saints & Sinners is the duo’s first studio album together.
O’Brien has the vocal power and control of a classical singer, but the sensibilities of a ’40s songbird; she can sound theatrical, especially compared to the generally monotone delivery favored by many altcountry- roots performers, because her interpretations inject so much emotion and lucidity into the words. She also takes more risks, with subtle slides and the ability to lean into notes with an intensity that probably gave co-producers Ben Winship and Eric Thorin, and their limiter, fits. Winship also contributes mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, and harmony vocals while Thorin adds all bass and tuba parts as well as more harmony vocals. Moore’s fingerpicking is impeccable throughout.
The songs on Saints and Sinners come from everywhere. Tunes by Richard Thompson, Richard Rogers, George Harrison, Dave Van Ronk, Harry Nilsson, and Jessie Winchester join two originals. Her rendition of the Winchester song “Lonely for a While,” feels very much like a set piece plucked from a 1930s musical, so delicate yet with a light bounce. Again Mollie’s delivery made me understand the words and emotions of this song in a way that I never did before, even after many listens to Winchester’s original.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’10 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.