Molly Thomas & The Rare Birds – Time for These Wings to Fly

An article by Johnny Cole  |  Photos by Stephen Anderson

Through the years, there has always been a select group of bands and music artists that have caught my attention more than usual. In the recent past, I anxiously waited for what was next from such artists as Escondido, Larkin Poe and a select number of others. The unexpected reward of learning about a great band or musician has had a huge impact on what I do. It is why I liken it to a pilgrimage in search of the best music. I can add that it has become a mission for all of us at The Southland Music Line.

I can easily place Molly Thomas and The Rare Birds on the short list of such artists. It goes without saying that their latest album “Honey’s Fury” sparked my enthusiasm for some time now. Rarely have I spoken with those in the band without asking “how’s the new record coming along?” or “can we expect a release date soon?”.

This four piece band from southern Alabama fronted by the amazing Molly Thomas has what I’ve always referred to as “that something special”. On May 20, 2018, while performing at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club in Mobile, AL, my opinion of them as a band to remember was firmly cemented. Things all seemed to come together on this particular evening. Molly Thomas’ vocals and growing skills at fronting a band while bringing her music to life had never been more evident; Rick Hirsch, a seasoned music veteran, showed exactly why his music resume is so impressive; bassist John Keuler proved why he is the right musician for this job with his perfect playing and ability to harmonize so beautifully with Molly, occasionally taking lead on a number or two; and finally, John Milham’s driving beat is the backbone of this near perfect ensemble. I have seen and heard them many times previously, but on this night, the moon and stars were aligned; this lineup of Molly Thomas & The Rare Birds had officially arrived. I still rank that May 20th show in 2018 as one of the best small venue shows that I have seen in recent years. The band rocked and its leader shined ever so brightly.

Top photo: Molly Thomas & the Rare Birds at Cedar Street Social Club in Mobile, AL “Album Release Show” (Sat. June 22, 2019); above photo: Molly Thomas at Cedar Street Social Club (Sat. June 22, 2o19)

Now that “Honey’s Fury” has officially found its way to the light, it’s rightfully receiving high praise from a number of sources. The anticipation has been fulfilled and – we, as fans can judge for ourselves this latest album.

Much water has passed under the bridge since I first heard Molly Thomas & The Rare Birds a few years ago at Jack’s by the Tracks by invitation of Mark Garrison, the venue’s enthusiastic owner. At that time, I only knew John Milham from his performances with several of the region’s best known bands and, of course, Rick Hirsch from his successful history as a founding member of the great Southern rock band, Wet Willie (inductees of both the Alabama and Georgia Music Hall of Fames). He’s recorded and toured with Billy Vera, Joan Armatrading and during the mid-seventies with Gregg Allman and Cher. Hirsch also co-wrote the song “Papa Come Quick (Jody & Chico)” with Billy Vera and Chip Taylor that appears on Bonnie Raitt’s Grammy nominated “Luck of the Draw”.

Rick Hirsch at Cedar Street Social Club in Mobile, AL (Sat. June 22, 2019)

When I first wrote about the vocals of Molly Thomas, I likened her, somewhat, to the singer Sam Phillips (known in part for her work with producer T-Bone Burnett, her ex-husband) and I was quickly drawn to Thomas’ gifted songwriting. One of her songs, “The Ocean” became an immediate favorite for a number of reasons including its references to the nearby city of Ocean Springs, MS, the birthplace of Molly Thomas and, also, the first home of my own parents as a newly married couple.

“I dream about the ocean
down south to the Gulf of Mexico
that’s where my mama had a baby
I was born in a little town east of the Biloxi wind”

Molly Thomas sings of “a town of believers waiting on their catch from the sea, painters, potters in that place like good people of faith, waiting for their colors to arrive from the sky, seers….”

Since the first time at Jack’s by the Tracks to last year’s already mentioned May 20th Callaghan’s show and until now, I have continued to grow as a fan. I’ve also learned more about each member of the band, in particular Thomas, whose history of working with several artists (Guster, Will Hoge, Matthew Ryan), touring internationally with Todd Snider and even appearing on such shows at The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, added to my interest. Above all, it was Thomas’ shows with these three talented guys, Hirsch, Keuler and Milham that provided the indispensable ingredients for what I have come to love and appreciate. With each performance, Molly Thomas and The Rare Birds continued to grow as a tightly fit four piece ensemble that became one; an accomplishment few bands can completely and lastingly achieve. Yet, the beautiful thing is, the individuality of Thomas never falls short of illuminating.

Molly Thomas and John Keuler at Cedar Street Social Club in Mobile, AL (Sat. June 22, 2019)

The anticipated “Honey’s Fury” is exactly what many of us fans had hoped and waited for“good things come to those who wait”.

Thomas’ writing, mesmerizing vocals and choice of songs accompanied by that distinct Rare Birds sound make “Honey’s Fury” a true standout among the albums so far released in 2019. It’s a body of work that is highlighted by its authenticity, honesty and passion. The album is produced by Hirsch and Thomas; plus, the majority of the album (11 of 12 tracks) was mixed by Grammy award winning Trina Shoemaker (best known for her work with Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Daniel Lanois, The Indigo Girls and others) and primarily recorded at Mobile, Alabama’s “Dauphin Street Sound” with additional work at Hirsch’s Studio H2O. “Honey’s Fury” delivers on multiple levels.

The newly recorded version of “The Ocean” was rightfully added, as was “Tumbleweed”, an amazing song written by Jack Tempchin (partly famous for writing The Eagles’ classic “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and co-writing their hit “Already Gone”). Recently, in an interview with Wide Open Country, Thomas says after meeting Tempchin, she fell in love with this particular song and strongly related to it. Aren’t we glad she added it to “Honey’s Fury”?

John Milham at Cedar Street Social Club in Mobile, AL (Sat. June 22, 2019)

The album’s twelve tracks also include Thomas’ penned “The Boatman”, co-written with Amelia White; “Laura”, co-written with Ken Rose; “I’ll Meet You Anywhere”, co-written with Hirsch; and “Calling My Name”, co-written with Christopher Hoffee and Hirsch.

“Sharona”, written by Thomas and Amelia White has long been a favorite at shows and the video for the song has recently been released. Two more fan favorites, “Tear it Down”, written by Mando Saenz and Thomas and “I Wanna Live”, written by Mando Saenz and Jess Brown, provide examples of how the essence of live performances can still come through amazingly well on record.

Rounding off this body of work are the songs “All Used Up” and “Stay Stay”, both written by Thomas and the powerfully moving “Thank You”, co-written with Ken Rose, which features Thomas (vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, violins, viola, cello) with Keuler on upright bass and Courtney Blackwell on cello solo. “Thank You” is an early favorite on this album with its emotion filled songwriting and heartfelt delivery. When Thomas sings these lyrics, she pulls you in deep.

“Time has passed and now I see
Your love for me died in the sea
But I’m strong again
And now I know
My love for you, I’ve now let go”

Rick Hirsch and Molly Thomas at Cedar Street Social Club in Mobile, AL (Sat. June 22, 2019)

There will likely and deservingly be many positive things said about “Honey’s Fury” in the coming months by several reviewers, writers and fans alike.

A major reason for writing this article was to express a shared appreciation to the band for the joy they have given me and others. My hopes are that “Honey’s Fury” receives the attention it deserves and that word about Molly Thomas and The Rare Birds spreads beyond the coastal waters they call home. My prediction: it will.

It’s now the time for these wings to fly and I believe Molly Thomas and the Rare Birds will soar to newfound heights. The sky is the limit, and “Honey’s Fury” gives added reason why their success is so well deserved.

(Click Above for More Photos)

“Honey’s Fury” by Molly Thomas & The Rare Birds
(Released on June 7, 2019)

Produced by Molly Thomas and Rick Hirsch; 11 tracks were mixed by Trina Shoemaker; additional mixing by Rick Hirsch.

Tracks:
1. “The Boatman” (written by Molly Thomas & Amelia White)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, fiddle, piano; Rick Hirsch – guitars, vocals; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums, percussion, vocals

2. “I Wanna Live” (written by Mando Saenz & Jess Brown)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar; Rick Hirsch – guitars; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums & percussion; Mando Saenz – additional vocals

3.Tumbleweed” (written by Jack Tempchin)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar, viola; Rick Hirsch – guitars; John Keuler – bass; John Milham – drums

4. “Laura” (written by Molly Thomas & Ken Rose)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar; Rick Hirsch – guitars, piano; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums, percussion, tribal drums

5. “I’ll Meet You Anywhere” (written by Molly Thomas & Rick Hirsch)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, fiddle; Rick Hirsch – guitars, ambient drums; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums

6. “Calling My Name” (written by Molly Thomas, Christopher Hoffee & Rick Hirsch)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar; Rick Hirsch – guitars; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums & percussion

7. “Sharona” (written by Molly Thomas & Amelia White)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, violins, viola; Rick Hirsch – guitars; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums; Red Young – piano; Courtney Blackwell – cello

8. “Tear it Down” (written by Molly Thomas & Mando Saenz)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar; Rick Hirsch – guitars, vocals; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums, vocals; Red Young – Hammond B3 Organ
▪︎ Guest vocals – Keylan Laxton, Josh Daigrepont, Ryan Avinger, Ellen Corley & Whitney Jordan

9.All Used Up” (written by Molly Thomas)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar; Rick Hirsch – guitars; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums

10.Thank You” (written by Molly Thomas & Ken Rose)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, violins, viola, cello; John Keuler – upright bass; Courtney Blackwell – cello solo

11. “Stay Stay” (written by Molly Thomas)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar; Rick Hirsch – guitars; John Keuler – bass, vocals; John Milham – drums

12.The Ocean (written by Molly Thomas)
▪︎ Musicians: Molly Thomas – vocals, fiddle, hand claps; Rick Hirsch – guitars, hand claps; John Keuler – bass, vox, hand claps; John Milham – drums, percussion, hand claps

▪︎ Additional Information:
Molly Thomas (Kaigler’s Bottom Music / ASCAP); Rick Hirsch (In Sync Music / BMI); Amelia White (Pussydog Music / BMI); Christopher Hoffee (Smoke Machine Publishing / ASCAP); Jack Tempchin (Night River Publishing / ASCAP); Jess Brown (Rig Songs / ASCAP); Ken Rose (MyWarpedSongs / BMI Administered by LCL Music Canada); Mando Saenz (Scrambler, a division of Carnival Music / ASCAP)

▪︎ References: MollyThomas.com
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Page Designed & Edited by Johnny Cole
© The Southland Music Line. 2019. All rights reserved

©The Southland Music Line

 

 

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