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Mollie O'Brien

Big Red Sun – 1998 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Stephen L. Betts

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CDs by Mollie O'Brien

While her previous albums, including her collaborations with brother Tim, have been a delicious blend of bluegrass, blues and folk, the latest from Mollie O'Brien offers listeners a healthy dose of the full range of her formidable talents as a vocalist, and soulful interpreter.

The bluesy numbers recall the best work of Bonnie Raitt, but considering the diversity showcased throughout, it's unfair to attach too much of a comparison to anyone. Randy Newman, John Hiatt and Chuck Berry are among the more contemporary writers whose material is confidently interpreted by the songstress, while blues standards by Memphis Minnie and Willie Dixon are infused with the modern, crystalline quality of O'Brien's powerful voice. Highlights include the mournful title track, written by Lucinda Williams, and the gorgeous gospel-tinged "No Ash Will Burn."

It's always a pleasure to hear an artist make the transition from merely interesting to extraordinary, but in O'Brien's case she seems to have skipped that step and sailed right into the next category - essential listening!