Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore
Remington Road Records

Tim O’Brien’s ever upwardly arcing career has overshadowed the steadily productive one his sister Mollie has carved out as both a solo artist (appearing, always memorably, on some of Tim’s albums, in fact), as a duo with Tim, and now, for the second time (the first being 2007’s 900 Baseline), as a duo partner with her husband Rich Moore, who has otherwise been a highly regarded guitarist for various Colorado outfits, notably Pete Wernick’s Live Five. Like her brother, Mollie doesn’t recognize a lot of musical boundaries, and has no problem with unburdening herself of an affecting performance in any style she decides to tackle. Saints & Sinners is a highwater mark for her, and for the pair a big step forward from 900 Baseline in concept and execution.

Though there is only one true spiritual on the record—a low-key version of the great Chuck Wagon Gang’s “Mighty Close To Heaven” in which the original’s lively rhythm is supplanted by a lilting tempo, the better to summon the specter of impending mortality O’Brien sings of in a clear, triumphant mountain voice—Saints & Sinners is infused with spirituality. It’s not always as clear-cut as it is in “Mighty Close to Heaven,” though. David Yancey’s beautiful title tune, which finds O’Brien’s sturdy, measured reading backed by an affecting acoustic guitar and church piano, questions whether there is any grand plan amidst “war on the left, war on the right,” with the distant ringing of a bell, “for the saints and the sinners as well,” being the sole evidence of salvation a-borning. The haunting memories of lost love expressed in Richard Thompson’s exquisite, tear-stained “The Ghost of You Walks” achieve a spiritual transcendence by virtue of their hold on the singer’s memory. It may be a bit of a stretch, but some may even hear a bit of spiritual benevolence in O’Brien’s tempered, cabaret-style treatment of Jesse Winchester’s ironic “Lonely For a While,” a dyspeptic look at love by one who has bowed out of the game but wishes no ill will towards the happy couples he spies, even as he decides to “just be lonely for a while.”

On the other hand, a few items are in a league of their own, such as Tom Waits’s “Dead and Lovely,” a typically mordant letter from the dark side of “Sweet and Lovely,” that has nothing particularly nice to say about a certain woman’s character, but delights in the macabre, pointing out “but now she’s dead, so dead and lovely now,” in a musical setting out of a Parisian cabaret, with the dirge-like rhythm advanced by tuba, bowed bass, accordion, muted trumpet and mandolin, and O’Brien giving the lyrics an “I told you so” wry, dry reading. The torch rendition of George Harrison’s “Don’t Bother Me,” one of the best of the early Beatles’ songs but rarely heard anywhere anymore, is remarkable on a number of fronts: first, for simply being on the album, because it’s practically forgotten; second, for being reimagined in such stark, rootsy terms with acoustic guitar, mandolin, accordion; and not least of all, for O’Brien’s wounded vocal with its soft pleadings for solitude and a smidgen of rising anger at times. Rich Moore’s voice, heard throughout on guitar and harmony vocals, gets its big moment in the album’s signoff, “Cuba,” an original instrumental Moore wrote that winds down the festivities with the graceful, tropical ease of acoustic and pedal steel guitars, and winsome mandolin (courtesy Ben Winship)—reflective and soothing, it’s the proper exhale from the preceding tunestack's parade of betrayal, death, hurt and loneliness. Which is not to suggest Moore’s cleaning up all the mess others have left in their wake, but rather signaling something positive, the hope of a brighter day ahead. It’s a nice touch, and Saints & Sinners is beautiful to behold. -–David McGee

Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore’s Saints & Sinners is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024