Abbie Gardner has followed up her brilliant “Honey On My Grave” CD with another fine piece of artistry called, simply, “Hope.” The Red Molly member continues a long tradition of diversity in her music, with ample displays of blues, jazz, country, and pop/rock.
Gardner opens with “Break It Slow,” which does nothing of the kind. Her skill on the dobro comes quickly to the fore in this rollicking, bluesy beginning. But this track is merely setting a mood that is prevalent throughout the eleven songs on this CD. And that is what I believe defines “Hope’s” essence; it is a mood. Each song is unique, but they all blend together to create a feeling that the listener is sitting in a dark and smoky bar, with drink in hand, leaning back, and taking in musicianship extraordinaire.
Gardner brings vocals to the table that are at once sweet and soft, while also feeling edgy and sly. Her voice gives the impression of a wink and a knowing, furtive smile. The dobro only enhances that sensation with its alluring pull of playful, soulful, street-wise touch. Add in the smooth base of Craig Akin, slick piano of father Herb Gardner and the unassuming organ of sister Sarah Gardner (Can everyone in this family play at a high level!?), and the atmosphere of the downtown Chicago or New York bar/nightclub flourishes all the more. This is a tight group of musicians, also including Ben Wittman on drums and Emily Hope Price on cello, playing together as if one. The backing vocals of fellow Molly, Laurie MacAllister, along with Robbie Hecht and Fred Gillen, Jr. are also placed brilliantly and seamlessly throughout the tracks.
“Comes Love” is the ultimate seedy-tavern song, with Herb Gardner’s ivory keys dancing about throughout the track. His lively playing joins hands with Abbie’s bouncy and smiling, “It’s You,” later on.
Abbie Gardner is also a gifted songwriter, and this has rarely been more clearly on display than in the title track, “Hope.” She sings: “Got no cause to believe, but my hope just won’t leave.” This, with the vibe her dobro transmits, and the musical accompaniment enhancing all the songs, is really what Gardner is most attempting to convey here. We should never lose faith, even in the worst moments, and Gardner has to “give up. I give in;” she won’t fight the reality any longer that she is a sucker for the promise that we tell ourselves; that in the bleakest moments, there is … hope.
Gardner also cannot resist other elements that define her. In “Bang Bang,” she is mischievous, devious, conflicted, and unsure. “I could aim for her or aim for him,” or she could do herself in or walk away. Bang bang takes on multiple meanings and possibilities here and one can only guess who gets banged, or not, in the end.
When taken as one, “Hope” always comes back to mood. The bar is filled with ominous-looking folk, there is a lot of something going on just beneath the surface or in the shadows and no one really knows what will happen next. However, through it all, there is a sense of possibility and insinuation that makes us wish to stay and see where it all goes.
Abbie Gardner gives us “Hope:” listen, feel, love and, most of all, hope.