By Jackie Morris

mollysrevenge-275To paraphrase an old ad, you don’t have to be Irish… or Scottish… to love Celtic music. But if you are among the many who do, then you probably already know: it doesn’t get much better than Molly’s Revenge. With ten widely acclaimed albums already to their credit, the acoustic band has been playing to enthusiastic crowds since 2000, appearing at major folk festivals across the country and around the world.

But their new 11th album, Trio, has two notable differences: First, as the title implies, there are just three of the core members here, not the former four or five. And second, this collection is entirely instrumental.

The result, I should say from the outset, is no less dynamic, exciting, complex and engaging than any of their earlier recordings. In some ways, in fact, the “less is more” principle is at work here, in that you can better hear the musical nuances of each artist. And what amazing artists they are! David Brewer brings his infectious energy and unbridled passion to bear on the highland bagpipes, whistles, and bodhran. Classically trained violinist-turned-Irish-fiddler, John Weed, wields a wicked bow with authentic flair. And West Virginia native, picking maestro Stuart Mason, holds it all together with a break-your-heart-beautiful, resonant guitar and mandola.

Together, they pour out a cornucopia of Celtic delights: Scottish pipe sets, Irish reels, jigs, polkas, slides, French Canadian fiddle tunes, even a set of American old time tunes featuring Highland pipes.

While all these tunes are traditional in origin or written in the last century, Molly’s Revenge adds their own unique blend of musical interplay and kick-ass energy to each arrangement. Both Brewer and Mason, it should be noted, are seasoned composers in their own right – Mason as an award-winning songwriter; and Brewer as a composer of close to 200 traditional style tunes, many of which have been included in films and television.

So, it’s not surprising that Trio sounds both traditional and fresh at the same time – faithfully keeping those fierce Celtic rhythms and authentic melodies, while creating unique medleys and arrangements. In the opening set, Pipe Jigs, for example, David Brewer has recomposed two of the tunes, changing the tempo from their original reel and 2/4 march versions to jig time. Like most of the tracks on this album, if your foot doesn’t at least start tapping, someone better check your pulse.

Still I must confess, some of my personal favorite tracks on Trio were the somewhat softer, sweeter numbers. Mighty Reels, for example, opens with Mason’s mellow guitar, followed by the delicate flute-like sound of Brewer’s whistle; then Weed’s perfect fiddle joins the dance, and carries the melody away. Harvey’s Peacock is another such gem. It is a beautiful, melancholy compilation combining mandola, hornpipe, and fiddle to produce those unsurpassed Celtic strains of bittersweet longing.

The Gordon Duncan Set is another favorite of mine. A fitting tribute to the legendary bagpiper who passed away in 2005, it recreates four of Duncan’s tunes with guitar, bagpipes and fiddle.

And finally, the “pièce de résistance” for me was Willow Garden, based on the traditional American murder ballad (also known as Rose Connelly) with melodic origins in 19th century Ireland. The Trio version opens with the voice of a beautiful mandola, joined by a mournful violin, and then a delicate whistle. Together, this classic combination weaves a spell that is both deliciously sad and whimsical at the same time.

Of course the pace picks up quite nicely after that with the Black Pat Set and Deer Sally Brown. Nor would I want to mislead you to think for a second that this isn’t one hell’uva fun, lively album. But these somewhat slower, sometimes melancholy numbers provide a welcome juxtaposition to the more hard-driving cadence of the traditional dance tunes. And with the absence of any vocals to provide aural contrast, the softer tunes become all the more important in providing variety.

But whatever the mood of the song, Trio enjoys that rare synergy enjoyed only by musicians who have been playing together for a long time. Molly’s Revenge has achieved what they said they set out to do: to reproduce the energy and passion of their live performances. It’s an amazing amount of music to come out of… a trio.

A New York transplant to the tiny town of Carpinteria, CA, Jackie is a freelance writer by profession and a singer-songwriter by passion. Her newly-released third album of original Folk/Americana songs was among Top Folk Albums of 2011 on the Folk Music Radio Airplay Charts. Jackie is also an active member in such acoustic music communities as SummerSongs, SongMakers, and FARWest Folk Alliance.