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Mollie O'Brien: New CD, Saintly Sinnin' Sound

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Denver-based, nationally adored Americana singer Mollie O'Brien's big musical "Yes" started with a big New York City "No" in that city's gritty 1970s.

She'd moved from Wheeling, West Virginia to become a Broadway star. She had The Voice: a beautifully clear, wittily expressive instrument that mainlined messages of hope, happiness and naughtiness to listeners' ears and heart.

But talent wasn't enough to make it from an audition to the Broadway stage, Mollie discovered. So The Voice took a job in New York City's garment center, one block and a light-year from The Great White Way.

The upside to this downturn? New York City's radio stations were playing a ton of different musical styles in the '70s. And Mollie had lots of time to listen in.

"They played old blues and folk music, which to my knowledge, no one was playing," she recalls.

Enter: her brother and dear friend, Tim O'Brien, who was living in Colorado, breaking musical ground - and a few instruments - in Boulder Colorado's Ophelia Swing Band. When Tim's band-mates swung through New York, Mollie put them up, and found her life's calling.

"They just completely turned me on end. And I said, 'I have to sing," she recalls.

Before you could say, "Taxi!" Mollie O'Brien moved to Colorado. At the time, "you could do a whole circuit along the Front Range in six weeks," and make a living doing it.

You could also find your soul-mate, which Mollie did, in guitarist Rich Moore. Their meeting is recounted on her web site:

"We finally talked on April Fool's Day, 1981, at the Denver Folklore Center," said Rich. Mollie thought to herself that day, "I think I could marry that guy."

It was a creative marriage as well as a romantic one.

"We kept playing music. And we were doing okay, until we realized we were going to have kids," O'Brien says.

This time, Rich got the day job. Mollie and Rich put their next big musical project on pause for 27 years while they raised their daughters.

The pair pressed "Play" this fall, issuing a new CD called Saints & Sinners.

They'll be celebrating the disc's release at Denver's Swallow Hill's Daniels Hall on Nov 13 at 8pm.

Saints & Sinners picks up where Mollie left off in New York. The CD lassoes the dark allure of Broadway, the infectious feel of swing and the O'Brien-Moore family's resonant singing. If that sounds overly saintly, the disc includes covers of sinner-songwriters like Tom Waits, too.

The disc's quirky beauty flies in the face of much of 21st century music's aesthetic and commercial minimalism.

"With this CD, when we decided to go all out, I just thought, 'What am I waiting for?" O'Brien says.

She's a got a point. In today's musical world, many musicians are reaping 1970s gig fees, unadjusted for inflation. Hit CD's are more the exception than the rule. You could see this as a sin, or an injustice. But O'Brien sees these challenges as an invitation to artistic freedom.

This pragmatic optimism also colors her thoughts on singing.

Less is more, she believes. And time is a gift.

"I don't think your voice really comes into your own until you're in your early 40s," she says.

But some aspects of her performer's life have given in to time.

"I can't go out and be as crazy as I used to be when I touring," she confides, with what sounds like a smile. "But I can condense it into a small amount of craziness."

Journalist Sharon Glassman co-hosts the Boomer Alley Radio show heard in LA, Colorado and iTunes. She is also the founder of The Jamesons Co-Dependent Country Band.