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Roll’s Quick Picks by Crispin Kott

Nina Violet—Lose Strife

Nina Violet’s voice is the first thing you notice on her new album, Lose Strife. On album opener “Better Than to Bruise You,” she evokes all the pain and beauty of love in one fragile, sweeping motion. “You are my favorite illusion,” she sings over spare instrumentation that rattles and hums, and it’s impossible not to believe her.

Violet grew up in Martha’s Vineyard, turning to music as so many musicians do, as an escape from being ostracized in school for standing out in a crowd. While some follow that path toward a sound that stems from aggression, Violet’s music has a more introspective aesthetic, whether it sways toward light or darkness.

“Way Down Washing Dirty Dishes” and “Yellow Flash” feature the kind of soaring, otherworldly harmonies Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear get all the accolades for. Elsewhere, as on “Slow Me Down,” the music is as layered and lush as anything produced by Brian Wilson during his fertile early to mid-’60s reign over Los Angeles and the American airwaves.

The Band’s Garth Hudson makes an appearance on “Burn the Bridge,” though from beginning to end, Lose Strife is more about Violet, her interaction with all the musicians, and their collective ability to render the songs as artfully and naturally as imaginable. It is a collection of warmth and comfort and beauty. And who doesn’t need some of that in their life?


Red Molly—Love and Other Tragedies

If a true sign of a band’s success is a robust live calendar that stretches well off into the future, Red Molly is in an enviable position. The folk-country trio is keeping busy through all of 2009, and already has several bookings for the first half of the following year.

Love and Other Tragedies, the second Red Molly full-length, is a warm and inviting collection of songs, many of which one might imagine hearing played live on a front porch, or—as the band’s history goes—around a campfire. Nearly five years ago, Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner and Carolann Solebello first harmonized with one another at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and that intimate sound is still very much apparent on their new album.

The three share lead vocal duties from song to song, with the collection a healthy mix of originals and covers of traditional and contemporary folk and country songs. The instrumentation is largely acoustic, with guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandola evoking sorrow (“Is the Blue Moon Still Shining”) and joy (“Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia”) in equal measures.

But it all comes down to the harmonies, which is where Red Molly’s true strength lies. Love and Other Tragedies is a vocal-lover’s paradise, an earthy album full of all the grit of its Americana roots.


Tony Penn—The Quicken
(Big Cow Records)

Tony Penn’s new album hits heavy on the heart. Like Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, or Death of a Ladies’ Man by Leonard Cohen, The Quicken covers the broad spectrum of what love can do to one’s poor heart.

Whether the song is actually about being brokenhearted (“Before I’m Gone”) or about some semblance of redemption (“She Comes to Me”), if feeling sadness makes you feel good, you could do a lot worse than to let Penn’s music be your soundtrack.

Penn’s is a more soulful voice than one might ordinarily associate with folk-rock, though like Bruce Springsteen, there’s an emotional depth there that resonates well with the finger-picked guitars and the accordion, dobro, fiddle, and Kathleen Davis’ backing vocals, particularly on “Rough Hands.”

Much of The Quicken sees Penn providing his own accompaniment on acoustic guitar. On songs like “Keep Me in Your Heart,” it almost feels intrusive listening in as a man’s emotions are laid bare. But it’s the good kind of voyeurism, more like catharsis.

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