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Molly Sweeney

Gold Rings and Fur Pelts

(Syren Songs; US: 14 Jun 2011; UK: 7 Jun 2011)

On her debut album, Gold Rings and Fur Pelts, Molly Sweeney succeeds nearly on the power of her voice alone. That’s not to say that the arrangements here don’t work, or aren’t impressive in their intricacy—“Swollen” is thick with pedal steel and horns, as bleary-eyed as it is pastoral, while “Spirit, I Will See You” is a dissonant, otherworldly haunt—but it’s her voice that pulls this all together. She’s got a great range, going from sultry depths to angelic heights, but it’s her delivery, with all the control and emotion of a seasoned soul singer, that makes her a unique talent. The softness of her voice on opener “Swollen” grows ever so subtly into a quiet snarl as she sings about how “the Jacks and the Jills just try to make names for themselves” and how she stands there with “swollen fingers” and her “blood hobbles through her veins”. There are wonderful phrases like this that work their way through the entire record, though her voice is always restrained and patient enough to make you go and find them, rather than clubbing you with her often striking words. The songs, as a collection, end up feeling a little too sleepy overall, maintaining a slow, languid trudge through the whole record. While it’s true that that gives Sweeney’s voice space to stretch out and impress, it also undersells the inherent immediacy and energy of her voice. Gold Rings and Fur Pelts is an impressive debut, on the whole, and with a voice like this, Sweeney’s got nowhere to go but up.

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Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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