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Of The Fall

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BRIAN MOLNAR & THE Naked Hearts/Of the Fall: These Brooklyn cowboys should make Jack Elliot proud as they continue to push the boundaries of Americana in sound and spirit beyond what has become an ossification too frequent in the form. Fusing, pop, country, folk and concise lyrics that hit hard and fast tied together with Arlo Guthrie inspired vocals, this is grand folk music for now times. Put it this way, if you play this in the car, you might find yourself hitting the eject button less often than you think when the 11 tracks have run their course. Well done. 

Before Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and others developed the big arena moribundities that brought success but stripped them empty of artistic integrity, they made music that was like this: honest, from the heart, and poetic, carrying the wide open airs of the mid-West all the way to New York City and beyond. In Of the Fall, Brian Molnar combines all that with the unusual strains of a Graham Parker or perhaps an Elvis Costello who decided not to be so angular, reaching for melodics rather than raw emotion. The iconic cover photo (shot by Dan McBride, expertly arranged by Amy Kartman) captures the essence of the CD: a white hat troubadour on the high plains caught between the lonesome prairie and a clatterous Big City just over the horizon.

Molnar sings, writes, and plays acoustic guitar, but he made a dead perfect choice in Travis Miscia, who plies keyboards that round everything out. Miscia possesses as uncanny a knack in colorations as Molnar has in front and center folk presence…and Molnar himself, along with Todd Lanka and engineer Mike Olear, captained the mixing duties with a finesse hard to come by, especially in cuts like When You Couldn't Walk the Line, though any number of tracks are deceptively wrought, exercises that would make even Lindsey Buckingham beam in envy and admiration. Listening to Fall makes me want to revisit Harry Chapin, Don McLean, Tom Rapp, and that whole era where this sound was birthed.

Molnar's too young to have been of that age but, man, does he ever live it. Treading the midnight highway dividing line between country and the Ash Grove, he evokes a turning point just before everything changed and too much got lost. The moody Movin' Down the Road, a duet with Amanda Shires, is a bittersweet affair caught between joy and lament, made all the more poignant by Shires' smoothly laconic fiddle. Taking his cue from Walt Whitman throughout the disc, in Leaves of Grass he intones that 'Understanding can be like a curse', recalling Ecclesiastes' ominous cautionary about enlightenment ("With much knowledge comes much sorrow") while observing the ironies, joys, and aches that human life comes ineradicably accompanied by.

BRIAN MOLNAR & the Naked Hearts/Miss You: We keep getting more amazed with each new outing how there's such heavy duty roots music alive and well, and thriving, in in the middle of Brooklyn. Pulling fave tracks from their past three albums and rolling them into a live setting outside Nashville, this merry bunch of troubadours that fancy themselves as the fool in the tarot deck are the kind of band we'd go see even if we weren't on the list at the door. Following their own muse and the guideposts of 60s country rock like what the Nashville A team was doing when they backed up Dylan and drew other hippies to Nashville, they are starting to make T-Bone Burnett look like an insular knucklehead for not using them in a soundtrack already. This is the new course roots should be taking. Check it out.

"Miss You" was recorded live outside Nashville, with tracks from Brian Molnar & The Naked Hearts' earlier two CDs and Molnar's solo album. It has wonderful production. In fact, it might be a bit too perfect. The audience can only be heard at the end of the songs, so it does not have much live ambience. Many of the nine tracks do not sound that much different from the studio versions on earlier CDs.

What "Miss You" shows, however, is how well the Naked Hearts merge with Molnar's compositions. Except for the traditional "James Alley",' these are all originals. They are modern folk songs, telling stories with uncomplicated melodies. The lyrics are complex, however, like these from "Devil Singing Backwards": "I've loved the wild and the strange/Cause that leaves it up to fate."

The band doesn't try to change Molnar's acoustic. singer/songwriter base, but enhances it. The rhythm section of Dave Villano on bass and CF Marin on drums add a punch to each track except "Black and Blue," which just has Molnar's vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica. John Koneval's electric and often twangy guitar and Travis Miscia's keys move the songs toward rock, which fits Molnar's strong vocals and serious lyrics. 

If you have earlier CDs by Molnar, this one, a bit less than 35 minutes, is not essential. But for those who are not familiar with his earnest Americana, this could be a good introduction.

Brian Molnar and Co. offer the assumption of using the Tarot's "Fool" card as their latest cd accounts their journey into "Live Album" territory. Recorded at Tennessee's The Walnut House ("outside of Nashville"), "Miss You" may originally be considered a gutsy move for Molnar, whose previous studio releases "Feelin' Out of Time" and "Temperance and the Devil" (with the Naked Hearts) showed a polished, poetic feel. But the moment he growls the tag line of the album's opening theme song, accompanied by the blast of electric guitar, bass, drums, and that honky-tonk piano --- my God! Has Dylan gone electric?!

Well, just like The Bob blew our placid folkie minds open at that Newport gig, Brian and the Hearts show they can indeed hang with the best of them in Live Band territory. Just when you have had your fill of artists who can obtain a great studio-produced sound, but lack luster onstage (or downright "suck, live"), or in a parallel universe deliver showmanship and power in concert whilst never being able to focus and produce a decent studio record, here is a band that thankfully can capture both.

Ah, the Journey begins:

  1. Miss You
  2. Be careful, the title cut opener is gonna grab you! Tight, fresh, with delightfully (Devil Card?) snarly vocals, you're in for the ride of your life. Just give in and follow the honky-tonkin' piano..... Santa Fe
  3. Perfectly done on "Temperance", The Locals (like moi) are going to say they miss the backing harmony vocals of the "New Glimmer Twins" (Yarn's Blake Christiana and Trevor MacArthur), but never fear --- the Bobby Dylanesque harmonica (the one that you thought you'd never hear again in a million years) and the dramatic piano lines that you could swear belong to Leon Russell all but make up for it. What I Left Behind
  4. The "Feelin' Out of Time" gem gets countrified! When You'd Fall From Grace
  5. OK ---- I admit, I'm prejudiced with this one: these warm, lovely lyrics with lush, breathy background vocals are my favorite from the "Feelin'" album. How could anyone go one better with that? Well --- here ya go! Jazzified, a piano that sparkles, and reach into the gut for that sound of desperation. Beautiful! Black & Blue
  6. It wouldn't be a Molnar album without a retreat into an acoustic guitar and harmonica to illustrate his dark folky side. To be played onstage with a single solo spotlight only.... Changin' Lanes
  7. "Dirty" Dave's bass and CP's drums create a pressure-cookin' bluesy rocker. I have read the liner notes, which tell me that John Koneval is doing that guitar-thing, but I swear they're lying and it's Eric Clapton. Devil Singing Backwards
  8. Part of the journey of The Fool is believing the journey has come to an end, only to find one has just circled back to the start, and a new direction must be taken. Go ahead, feel free to sing along with the catchy "I'm comin' home" chorus. But be aware, there are at least two more roads ahead ....... I Did What I Did
  9. "I was such a foolish kid..." wades through the themes of self-recognition and attempts at redemption. All with driving guitar and keyboards, of course. James Alley
      With its "Peggy Sue" opening bars, all hell breaks loose as drums go into overdrive, and Molnar knocks it out of the park with his "I'll show ya!" vocals.

Stay tuned... the next card in the deck is The Magician....

Full of easy flowing melodies, lap steel guitar, twangy electric lead guitar and vocal harmonies, Molnar and The Naked Hearts make music partly of a country rock feel.

Molnar, who handles the role of lead vocalist and wrote all the songs lays down with prime Naked Hearts members ‘Dirty’ Dave Villano (bass), ‘Sting’ Ray Pursell (drums), Vern Warta (Fender electric guitars, Gibson lap steel, lap dobro and mandolin) and Bryan T. Baxter (harmonica) a solid, and creative base that enable the lyrics to carve out vivid imagery of various moods and textures.

Among the most pleasing and imaginative and featuring swirling guitar there is ‘Changing Lanes’ —then as they burn rubber and have a confrontation with life’s rules, and with all guns blazing the excellent opening cut ‘I Did What I Did’ hits a comfortable spot.

Unafraid to pitch himself (and the band) full hearted into a groove and become enveloped in lyrics reflecting on past loves as in ‘Things We Said’, ‘Angel In The Sun’ and with an edge to it ‘Gone In The Morning’. Where he contemplates on how his troubles will be gone in the morning and things will be alright.

On leaving the country rock scene behind and delving deeper into both the music and his soul, Molnar’s ‘This Road’ is more folksy than modern-day American, and then we have yet another cover of traditional ode ‘Coo Coo’ (as in ‘Coo Coo Bird’). Placed in an innovative contemporary environment of electric piano and a powerful rhythm section —it edges more towards that associated with the city than the mountain habitat of the bird itself. But in its own way it works perfectly.
Molnar and The Naked Ladies show enough talent to suggest they can and will I am sure go on from here —since the core of the music (ever tastefully produced) and Molnar’s story-telling vocal style is compelling.

With the boys picking some of their best work and Molnar leading in fine style, Blake Christiana and Trevor MacArthur from the excellent group Yarn lend some crucial harmonies to ‘Santa Fe’ and, there is more.

Ah, Peaceful Easy Feeling. Combining some of the feelings and sonicscape of Roger McGuin, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and early Eagles, singer/songwriter Brian Molnar delivers a laid back 1970s California folk-rock vibe. Brian successfully sets a tone on his compositions, which are well-written and use smart instrumentation – never cluttering up the story-telling aspect of the songs. Nice use of slide guitar throughout “Santa Fe”; some country-picking, and what sounds like either a lap steel or pedal steel guitar round out the instrumentation on this old school country folk song.

“Changing Lanes” is a bit stronger-voiced; the instrumentation also adds a little dirt to the whole vibe, with the slide sounding grittier and the drums driving harder. “Coo Coo” adds some Ray Mazarek organ sounds ala Riders on the Storm, nailing the 1970s trippy vibe found in that signature Doors song. Further reading into Molnar’s press material indicates that this is famed musician Bernie Worrell. “Devil Singing Backwards” suggests the mellow California rock vibe present in “Santa Fe”. Melodic guitar lead break adds a nice element to the song, as does the phrasing stops and starts. A catchy chorus makes this song memorable. The song selection ends with “I Did What I Did” – which features lovely female backing vocals which add so much to the song. A call and response style slide guitar is present in the background of the track, which also adds a nice touch. Listen to Molnar’s tracks on his website: http://www.brianmolnar.com/

Onlangs zei een bekend artiest tegen mij : Americana Is Dead. Het nieuwe album “Temperance & The Devil”, dat Brian Molar en zijn Naked Hearts ons voorschotelt bewijst echter het tegendeel. Het genre is artiesten zoals hem veel verschuldigd, want dit intieme album effent het pad voor Brian Molnar om grootheden als Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan of Chris Kristofferson bij te treden. Zowel muzikaal als tekstueel scheert deze plaat hoge toppen en doet me nog het meest herinneren aan het beste werk van Mark Olson. De opvallende frontcover van het album springt dadelijk in het oog, met de afbeelding van twee belangrijke Tarotkaarten waartussen vele mensen gedurende hun ganse levensloop heen en weer geslingerd worden : die van de gematigdheid en die van de duivel, die constant tracht onze positieve energie te ondermijnen. Dit doet ons soms twijfelen, maar niet Brian Molnar, die in de gevoelige meezinger en opener “I Did What I Did” pretendeert nergens spijt moet te van moeten hebben. Americana van de hoogste plank gekruid met al de nodige ingrediënten krijgen we in “Santa Fé”, dat vol heimwee naar deze droomstad opent met een vrolijk strummende gitaar, doorregen met slidegitaar, een kletterende Telecaster en de prachtige harmonische zang van Blake Christiana en Trevor MacArthur. Het volledige Mark Olson kippenvel krijgen we in het amoureuze, van liefdesverdriet doordrenkte “Things We Said”, waar een zachte mondharmonica en een sprankelende mandoline voor de extra sensitieve noot zorgen. Een “Devil Singing Backwards” moet in een stevig alt-country jasje gestoken worden, evenals het rootsy en stevig bluesrockende “Changing Lanes”, waar een gepijnigde Molnar zelfs opgewonden en boos klinkt en gitarist Vern Warta en Bryan T. Baxter op mondharmonica driest tekeer gaan op de achtergrond. De rust keert weder als de Townes Van Zandt’s engelen neerdalen over “Angel In The Sun” en “This Road” begeesterd wordt door een folkie Dylan sfeer. Een prachtige afsluiter en één van de hoogtepunten van de plaat is de mooie mid-tempo countryballade “”Chase What Matters”, die lekker walst op de tonen van een akoestische gitaar en weer uitmuntend opgeluisterd wordt met slide en mondharmonica en een zeer wijds klinkende elektrische gitaar. Met dit album heeft Brian Molnar met begeleiding van The Naked Hearts de juiste Americana kaart getrokken, een album om trots op te zijn.

Brian Molnar and the Naked Hearts "Temperance & The Devil" Avenue A Records

Molnar reaches deep into the Americana sound here, with a lot of twang and songs full of experiences of regret and love. It is more alt-country than traditional because of the complexity of Molnar's lyrics, which tend toward internal rhymes and mythic storytelling.

"Devil Singing Backwards" is an example: "Through the melancholy rain I heard that devil go insane...Won't you leave the light on baby/I'm comin' home". Not the kind of thing you hear much on Cat Country radio. There is a Dylanesque quality in both his songwriting and his vocals, although the latter in Molnar's case are clear and straightforward.

Molnar's acoustic guitar and plaintive vocals are out front, backed by a top-notch band. Although the 10 tracks stay on an even keel, the band rocks out on a few which adds variety throughout the CD's 41 minutes.

The backup of bass, drums, and electric guitar is enhanced by lap steel, Dobro, harmonica, and mandolin. Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell also plays on "Coo Coo".

Molnar generally sings with a country inflection, but he varies from the mid-tempo rock of "Changing Lanes" to the reflective "This Road", which has little backing except his acoustic guitar.

The title refers to the universal struggle between restraint and impulsiveness. This CD is closer to restraint, but it is balanced with enough thoughtfulness and feeling to appeal to listeners of both folk and country.