Playing the role of the musical ingenue of Cincinnati, Sullivan possesses a strong, feminine allure, not in the sense of a sex-symbol guitar-strumming vamp, but rather in the sense of a formidable axe-wielding female archetype.
Sullivan began her musical career as the lead singer of The No No Knots, a dance-driven pop/punk band with ties to both The Marburg Collective and The Happy Maladies. When she made the bold decision to break out on her own, the folks at Marburg gave her both a venue and the support vital to help make it happen.
Since then, Sullivan has gone on to gather quite a bit of attention from fellow musicians, bloggers and critics around town and also earned a spot on the MidPoint Music Festival stage in 2013.
Winter '13, Sullivan's 2nd solo release is, quite literally, a hand-crafted work of art in which the packaging is hand-painted and each disc has the title and artist inscribed on it in ballpoint pen. This gives the album a deeply intimate 'I made this just for you' feel to it.
Winter '13, in spite of its title, is a modern-day mix tape full of warmth and affection. I suspect that because of it's hand-made feel, Sullivan freed herself from the pressure and constraints of in-studio recording and granted herself permission to make the album that she truly had in mind, which was a deeply personal exploration - a journal in song.
The coziness of the album is reflected in songs that, for the most part, were recorded in a stripped-down, one-track, warts-and-all approach that embraces the sound of the room, allows it to remain present and brings you right into the space with her. I am particularly drawn to "so it goes (love and war)" a staccato quick-step waltz in which you can hear not only breaths, footsteps and creaks of a chair, but even the smile on Molly's face.
Her voice has a range of sound, dynamics, and presence that can go from St. Vincent to Kate Nash in the blink of an eye and leave you stupefied. In "they're all waiting for you" Sullivan touts her inner-strength by pushing the instrumentation into a supporting role and allows her ethereal vocals to take the forefront in this spectral hymn.
Sullivan's dark sense of humor is also evident in the song "be mine, jim jones" in which she sings a ballad of the megalomaniacal, Kool-Aid pushing mass-murderer of Guyana.
The track, "i burn it at both ends," all but closes out this musical diary, by mixing artful piano and plinking banjo with vocals that are highly-distorted just to the point of feedback, reminiscent of Kim Deal's "Mad Lucas" and similar works from The Breeders.
The last and shortest track on the album "the bows" is, oddly, one of my favorites. It is looping metaphysical mantra with an Indian raga edge to it. I'd like to hear Sullivan expand on this, particularly in live performance.
Speaking of which, it would not behoove anyone to underestimate Molly Sullivan as simply a pretty girl with a pretty voice who might do well to play in a coffee shop somewhere. Sullivan is a serious and accomplished songwriter with a mass of talent and ability. She does not write music to make you comfortable while you sip your mocha-soy half-caf latte. She will challenge you emotionally, intellectually and turn everything you think you know about the female singer-songwriters upside-down.
The hand-crafted Winter '13 by Molly Sullivan is available at Rock, Paper Scissors on Main St.