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Sunday, March 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Americana trio Red Molly reveal one surprise after another on The Red Album
Triple whammy
Multi-instrumental abilities abound.
Credit:Annabel Braithwaite

Red Molly have left a significant mark on the Americana landscape over the past decade, in part because they're so interested in musical styles that are distant cousins of folk and roots music. Whether sassy, somber or subdued, each of the trio's tracks is a genuine surprise. Just when you think you've figured out Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner and Molly Venter, they throw a curveball in the form of a lyric, a harmony or an instrument you weren't even aware they played.

The Red Album, a new record they'll present at their April 11 show at the Stoughton Opera House, is an excellent example of their power to baffle and excite. At various points you're treated to folk ("I Am Listening"), Americana ("Clinch River Blues"), country ("You Don't have the Heart for It") and rock ("Lay Down Your Burden"), and that's just the start of the fun. The ominous mood of their spaghetti western-style guitar work on "When It's All Wrong" is augmented by chilling harmonies, and the vocals on the a cappella closer "Copper Ponies" are likely to transport your imagination to a nighttime campfire in the middle of a wide-open prairie. The latter seems made for the transition from early spring to the loveliest part of the summer.

The group's 2011 album, Light in the Sky, is full of inventiveness, too. Shades of honky-tonk color their version of the Buddy and Julie Miller classic "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger," while their jazzy take on the Otis Blackwell and Eddie Cooley song "Fever" is so sultry that it might set off the fire alarms in the Opera House.

The ladies' multi-instrumental abilities are also a thing of wonder, especially when you see them perform live. Not only does each of them play acoustic guitar, but MacAllister knows her way around a banjo and Gardner is handy with the dobro and lap-steel guitar. Pair these skills with their three-part harmonies, and you have the sonic equivalent of a tractor beam.

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