By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Only a Story
Calling the music of Tucson's Mollys eclectic is a bit of a disservice. While the statement is intrinsically true, the subtle distinctions are easily lost. The band does more than simply throw a handful of styles together in an attempt to sound worldly. Through a unique cultural alchemy, they fuse a diverse range of musical and thematic elements to create a sub-genre all their own.
At the heart of the band are Irish-American singer/songwriter Nancy McCallion and Mexican-American vocalist Catherine Zavala. The fact that these two friends were inspired to form the group after attending a Los Lobos/Pogues double bill helps explain the Mollys' stylistic genesis perfectly. Using the broad canvas of folk as its basis, the group's fondness for incorporating touches of Mexican, Celtic, Cajun and German music into the mix brings the sonic melting pot to a boil. This, the seventh album from the Old Pueblo quintet, boasts a more heavily Celtic-flavored sound than their previous efforts. While their other influences aren't abandoned, the overall conceptual thread of the disc tends toward the realm of traditional Irish fare, in both style and theme.
Yet the Mollys don't take the easy (and well-traveled) route that so many similar outfits choose to traffic. Instead of falling back on an endless stream of sing-along choruses and clichéd green-cloverisims, the group takes lyrical aim at much darker and more penetrating subject matter.
The stirring "The Man in Question" explores the ramifications of a young woman's unexpected pregnancy, while the "The Powers Brothers" is a historical tale recounting the lives of two Arizona gold miners railroaded by the law. But by far the most strident examples of the band's dark insights can be found in "My Manada," the story of an elderly Colombian woman smuggling cocaine inside her belly to provide for her young, and the lively "Yer Drunk Again," a ghost story about the spirit of a battered wife returning to haunt her abusive husband.
Buoyed by the strength of an estimable rhythm section and the tasteful flourishes of accordion, banjo and fiddle, the band's rolling dynamism is the perfect foil for McCallion's trenchant narratives.
If the setting and characters sound bleak on paper, there's even less sunshine and lollipops found on the record. Which is, no doubt, how the Mollys want it, and also the reason why Only a Story is a cut above the standard world-music fare.