There are artists who seek to imitate and those who seek to innovate. One listen to the latest Avenue A records release, Of the Fall is enough to know that Brian Molnar & The Naked Hearts fall into the latter category. While maintaining the Country/Americana sensibility that propelled their 2010 live album Miss You to weeks in the AMA Radio Airplay Top 40, in this effort, Molnar strings his uncontrived poetics through production that spins an elegant parlor waltz as naturally as a roadside honky-tonk kicker. In their New York-accented style, Brian Molnar & The Naked Hearts never neglect the roots of their tradition but lead the listener through the rural landscapes of their influences into the sound of the glowing skyline on the horizon.
In the chorus of the opening track of Of the Fall, Brian Molnar invokes the ghost of a New York-based artist of another century, Walt Whitman while, “sifting through these leaves of grass,” giving a nod Whitman’s self-published and critically panned masterpiece. Isn’t it funny how most artists we still care about today were “indie” in their own life time? Later in the verses, Molnar is, “down by the river trying to catch [his] breath” and I think of Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” where Whitman is waiting for his future readership who he knows he will meet him across the ages, proving that eternal life is more than just a hoped-for concept to the artist—it is a reality dependent on the skills of his craft. In his work he bridges time and conquers death. Nowadays Whitman’s readers know that they can still take the Brooklyn Ferry like old Walt did, but also, that if they need to get to Philly, they can take the Walt Whitman Bridge too. With Of the Fall Brian Molnar & The Naked Hearts might still be “sifting” through it all,” but it seems they just might just have found a bridge to something big.
I listened to this record over and over again on a recent drive from New York to New Orleans. While I did pass Kenny Chesney’s tour bus as it was heading out of Nashville on I-40, I didn’t see a single sexy tractor. I did however hear The Naked Heart, Travis Miscia’s keys **** in time with the heat on the horizon in Mississippi and hear Amanda Shires’ fiddle trace the outline of the mountains on the Blue Ridge parkway. While the bands on Broadway in Nashville were playing “Sweet Home Alabama” to stumbling tourists, John Koneval’s guitar was channeling the ghosts of the “real” country licks still haunting the back alley of the Ryman. And as storm clouds moved in from the west, C.P. Martin’s kick drum and toms thundered through tornado wreckage in Alabama and Tennessee as Todd Lanka’s bass lines straightened the sinewy Appalachian roads into the straight highways that run from Huntsville to Lake Ponchatrain. The sound I was hearing, wasn’t Country Music, it was “music of the country.” In the penultimate title track of Of the Fall, Molnar sings, “I know that the land and the king are one.” After listening to this record I believe him. He also sings, “I know that I need you.” After listening to this record I believe he deserves what he seeks.