MUSIC | In which Molly Dean trumps Cary Grant

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Trying to figure who to cover for the night’s deadline, I pull up a couple clubs’ Web sites. Come across Acadia Cafe. They’ve got Molly Dean on a bill with three or four other names. Never heard Dean, but had good word of mouth from such folk in the know as Steph Devine, Shannon Johnson, and Alicia Wiley, none of whom are any slouches themselves. So Molly Dean it is.

I get on the blower, reach Acadia Cafe and ask what time Dean goes on. “I don’t know, but the music starts at 8,” comes the couldn’t-care-less reply. God forbid he should trouble himself to ask somebody there what time she’s doing her set. I hang up, get a little work done, then head over for a reconnaissance mission. It’s close enough that I can just come back if she’s going on late. Glory, glory Harry Lewis—turns out she’s up first. I can catch her, scoot on home, and be done working in time to watch Cary Grant in Topper on DVD (don’t tell me I ain’t got an exciting life this Friday night).

I squirrel myself out of the way in the back of the room, and immediately have a problem. The speaker in my little corner has no sound coming through it. So, I have to go all the way up to the front, practically in Molly Dean’s lap, where the only empty spot is. And I get to try and not be conspicuous, head bent over a notebook, scribbling on and on while she performs. Making the best of it, I’m treated to an exceptional example of what a talented singer-songsmith can do with just a voice and a guitar. Well, okay—Dean cheats a wee bit (with canned guitar and backup vocals fleshing out the sound). But who cares? If Todd Rundgren can get away with a whole band’s worth of pre-recorded accompaniment, there’s no law says Molly Dean can’t work a little augmented magic.

And magical it is. She’s got a rich, clear voice that rings like a bell, artfully phrases and comes through with a world of emotion. All of which makes it a depthless joy to watch (she bears, by the way, a passing resemblance to Jamie Lee Curtis) and listen to her wax wistfully poetic, owning with absolute authority the artform that gave us the likes of, say, Judy Collins (except Dean’s got lots and lots of heart). She makes it look real easy, effortlessly playing song after beautifully penned, wonderfully delivered song.

When she’s done, I have her autograph my review copy of Resonate, her debut CD from 2004 (she’s working on the new one), then hit the bricks. At home, rustling up some grub, giving my cats Butch and Sundance a snack, I sit down and make a decent attempt to get into Topper. Doesn’t take long at all before I’m too distracted and just have to hear what Resonate sounds like. So I put it on.

Good stuff. Real good. All the writing is first-rate, the singing splendid, and she’s got a few fine musicians working with her: Jason Murray (bass/guitar), Matthew Streiker (cello) and, on a pair of cuts, producer Johnathon Earl (guitar). It ought to be fascinating to see what she comes out of the studio with for the next album. Meanwhile, this one admirably suffices and, when you see her name billed someplace, whether the person answering the phone is of any use or not, trust me, it’s well worth going on down for an earful.