Beautiful Ballads

Mollie O'Brien's music is a rhythmically enticing hybrid that draws mostly on the traditions of blues, folk and R&B. On her new album, Things I Gave Away, O'Brien can belt with authority and really drive a rock or R&B tune, as witnessed on soulful cuts like "The Right Thing" (RealAudio excerpt) and Judy Roderick's funky "When I'm Gone" (RealAudio excerpt).

On Things, O'Brien confidently struts the stuff that's earned her the respect of many leading blues, bluegrass and folk musicians. But it's with ballads that this big-voiced singer's singer truly shows her mettle.

Her sensitive interpretative skills and full, rolling tones gently polish Kristina Olsen's sensual "Practicing Walking Away" and especially "Train Time" (RealAudio excerpt), a heartfelt ballad by Randy Handley and Charles John Quarto on which O'Brien's brother Tim supplies harmonies.

Some eerie effects and O'Brien's thoughtful restraint enhance the moodiness of Julius Dixon and Henry Glover's bluesy "Love, Life and Money," as does the subtle guitar artistry of producer Nina Gerber.

More sympathetic instrumental support is supplied by frequent O'Brien touring partner Gerber, as well as ex-Hot Rize guitarist Nick Forster, guitarist Sally Van Meter, and former Subdudes John Magnie and Steve Amedee.

O'Brien indulges her jazz jones with Abbey Lincoln's striking "Throw It Away," on which she's accompanied only by acoustic bassist Cary Black. Lennon and McCartney's "You Won't See Me" also gets a jazzy retread, though it's not so emotionally affecting as the rest of this 10-track disc.