Mollie O'Brien with Nena Gerber
at Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Lyons, Colorado
(21 August 1999)

What do Mollie O'Brien and Nena Gerber have in common? Neither is as well known as she should be. O'Brien still commonly is referred to as Tim O'Brien's sister, and Gerber, after all these years, still is known to a number of people merely as Kate Wolf's guitarist. O'Brien and Gerber are celebrating their first year of working together, and along with E-town musical director and E-tone, Chris Engelmann on bass, and former E-tone, Steve Ivey, on drums, they lit up the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest stage.

O'Brien's voice can stretch to accommodate the highest blues note, the longest gospel air, or even the loudest rock riff. Blues, gospel, rock or even bluegrass -- they're all part of her repertoire. Clad in a long, flowing green dress and glasses (Yes!!! A woman other than Lisa Loeb who wears glasses on stage!!), O'Brien swayed and sang various covers, including songs by writers as diverse as Si Kahn, Steve Goodman, Lucinda Williams and Terence Trent D'arby. Two Kate MacLeod covers -- first "Alaska," then "Lark in the Morning" -- were crowd pleasers. O'Brien commented that after she recorded the latter, she was told it sounded like a Beatles' tune. Her response: "That's the grooviest thing in the world." "Lark" indeed has a Beatles' feel although it seemingly pulls from both bluegrass and Irish roots.

Some of her bluesy covers allowed O'Brien to showcase her powerful voice and Gerber to shine on both acoustic and electric guitars. Steve Goodman's "Looking for Trouble" featured Gerber on acoustic guitar and O'Brien's voice leading the slow, bluesy mood as she sang about drinking, love and lying.

Inviting John Magnie and his accordion on stage added to the bluesy rock pace of Lucinda Williams' "Big Red Sun Blues," and "Denver to Dallas" featured Magnie's accordion first in the band showcase. Gerber truly let loose and became "Queen Nena," as O'Brien called her. Gerber's licks are powerful. Her stage presence is understated and subdued, but her guitar bursts forth and commands attention. As for O'Brien's showcase, she emphasized her ability to modulate her voice as only a master can. Earlier, her final note of a Si Kahn cover was held out delightfully long, changing emotion rather than just varying volume and pitch.

Changing styles again, O'Brien performed a D'arby cover as her encore. Engelmann's bass introductions made my friends and me think was performing a '60s tune, but her clear segue into "Sign Your Name" only further demonstrated her adroit skill at handling any song style. O'Brien deserved the standing ovation poured out from both the audience and her peers in the VIP area directly in front of the stage. Perhaps, with time and even more exposure, she, along with Gerber, will receive the recognition so richly deserved.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]