Big Red Sun
1998 - Sugar Hill Records
Washington Post, by Geoffrey Himes, 1/14/00
Randy Newman, John Hiatt, and Steve Goodman are not the world's greatest singers, but they have written some lovely melodies. You may not appreciate just[inset side=right] ... the smooth flow of her delivery and the sheer beauty of her alto make her one of the best interpretive singers in American pop today ...[/inset] how elegant their tunes can be until you hear them sung by Mollie O'Brien on her latest album, "Big Red Sun". Tim O'Brien's big sister owns one of those remarkable voices that seem to thicken in tone the longer she holds a note. The precision of her phrasing, the smooth flow of her delivery and the sheer beauty of her alto make her one of the best interpretive singers in American pop today.
For she doesn't merely revive old songs, she recasts them completely to fit her own personality. Listen to the way she changes Willie Dixon's "My Babe" into "Little Baby", making it clear that she's at least an equal in the relationship.
Listen to the way she makes the bawdy New Orleans beat count as much as the melody on "Eleezah", a song by her keyboardist John Magnie. Listen to the way she draws out the vowels on Lucinda Williams's "Big Red Sun Blues", until the mixture of regret and affection become unmistakable. Listen to the way her soft consonants and leisurely phrasing reinforce the slacker celebration of Newman's "Rollin". Listen and appreciate.
Rolling Stone (AU), 6/99 -- 3 and 1/2 stars
O'Brien is a sassy country singer with a bluesy shadow and an eye for a strong song. In a big smooth voice and on songs by Memphis Minnie, Willie Dixon, Randy Newman, and Chuck Berry, she steers clear of corn in stories about gambling men, love, loss and sexual politics in the rustic South. On "Denver to Dallas" she sings: "The ways of the women, they sure scare me some, you gotta do what you do like it's never been done before." With a raw, unsentimental approach, she makes Lucinda Williams' busted love lament, "Big Red Sun," and the rollicking traditional song, "No Hiding Place," her own. There's a heartfelt intelligence in this roots-without-whine music and it's unselfconsciously sophisticated.
Christchurch Press, Christchurch, NZ, 9/98
This is one of those special albums that appears once in a blue moon. American singer Mollie O'Brien,[inset side=left] ...one of those special albums that appears once in a blue moon...[/inset] in the tradition of such great contemporary artists such as Mary Coughlan and Madeleine Peyroux, is the find of the year. Her gorgeous, passionate voice breathes new life into songs from Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Randy Newman, among others. Supported by a tight band and superb arrangements, these take on whole new personalitites under her remarkable delivery.
Southern Skies, NZ, 11/98
Mollie O'Brien sings a cultured, chilling, country blues rock that has Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt nodding in appreciation. On "Big Red Sun" blues guitar, blues harp and searing vocals combine in a controlled burnoff with beads of sweat rolling as freely as the tight rhythm section.
Swallow Hill Quarterly, 10/98
Tonight, it is our distinct pleasure to present the release of Mollie O'Brien's new record, "Bid Red Sun" (Sugar Hill). It proves two things about our Mollie. First, she is one of the finest singers on the planet -- but you knew that. The other thing is that she is one of the best song-finders. Combing the archives of her widely varied musical interests, she comes up with gem after gem -- Lucinda Williams' "Big Red Sun," a languid, moody blues-ballad; Memphis Minnie's spirited "In My Girlish Days," John Hiatt's soulful funkpiece, "Love Like Blood" (featuring the riveting opening line, "Take it easy, baby, but take as much as you can."); Chuck Berry's romping "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man." Her taste is as impeccable as her voice, and the combination is irresistible. [inset side=right] ...one of the finest singers on the planet...[/inset]The thing that ties it all together is her amazing voice, THAT voice, about which Music Week says, "One moment it flashes bright and bold as sheet lightning. The next it cozies and purrs like a kitten. O'Brien can bend it to angular jazz movements, run it up and down rock and roll riffs with a guitar or blast it straight into the onslaught of a saxophone. Then, only moments later, that voice can curl like wispy smoke around the blue notes of a piano."
San Diego Union Tribune, 9/17/98 --3 1/2 Stars
Perhaps best known as half of a bluegrass duo with brother Tim, Mollie O'Brien has pretty much kept off the 'grass for her new solo album.
"Big Red Sun" -- the title song is Lucinda Williams' achingly simple lament, lovingly done here -- mostly celebrates the blues, starting with an understanding update of Memphis Minnie's "In My Girlish Days." Typical of the top-flight material is John Hiatt's "Love Like Blood," its basic sentiment wrapped in O'Brien's gorgeous voice and dressed up in Nick Forster's ever-subtle guitar playing.
Associated Press, Sound Bites: Audio Review, 9/8/98
Mollie O'Brien's last album was a collection of songs that ranged all over the map stylistically, but on "Big Red Sun" she focuses on acoustic blues. Her smoky voice is well suited to the style, and while there's nothing as sultry as "Sign Your Name" from "Tell It True," she comes close on "Looking for Trouble." Lucinda Williams' "Big Red Sun Blues" gets nice treatment here, as does Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man." O'Brien surrounds herself with some of acoustic music's top players, including Robin and Linda Williams and Peter Rowan. Overall, a solid effort from one of roots music's best interpreters and singers.
Country Standard Time, 10/98
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!Music Row, Nashville's Music Industry Publication, 11/2/98
You obviously don't know about this woman because if you did, she'd be very rich. O'Brien has one of the clearest, truest voices of our time. She is way underrated. [inset side=left] ... Her choice of material is nothing short of brilliant ...[/inset]I can not listen to her live without getting goosebumps, and this rootsy collection of blues, acoustic folk and hybrid Americana showcases her voice as well as a recording can. Her choice of material is nothing short of brilliant, too, with cuts by Memphis Minnie, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Chuck Berry, Steve Goodman and subdude John Magnie. Put on track six, Willie Dixon's "Little Baby," or the traditional spiritual "No Hiding Place," turn it up really loud, and be wowed. You're going to thank me. -C.B.