'American roots at its heart'

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Grammy Award-winning singer Mollie O'Brien has been performing and touring with Americana groups and on her own since the '80s. Over the past decade she has re-teamed with her husband, guitarist Rich Moore, for what she describes as the most satisfying period of her career.

Together the duo will perform at the Carroll Arts Center Saturday. O'Brien said the show will take audiences through a unique blend of American genres.


"The music runs the gamut from folk to traditional to a rock and roll tune or two. We can't say it's one style. It's American roots at its heart," O'Brien said. "Since we've been married so long, we have a bit of a marital banter which people seem to think is funny."

The concert is being presented as part of the Common Ground on the Hill Westminster Concert Series, which aims to bring folk music to Carroll County outside the limits of the annual summer festival. Common Ground director Walt Michaels said the goal of the festival is to bring worldwide talent to the area.


"You can't get this any other place," Michaels said. "Everyone we present is on the world stage. They're not the players you would go to hear in a local pub. They exist in a world community, and perform throughout the United States, Europe, Canada and beyond. That's the kind of artist we try to bring."

O'Brien has performed with her brother, the fellow Grammy Award-winning Tim O'Brien, and has been featured on "A Prairie Home Companion."

"Mollie has, for a long time, been one of the best Americana singers in the country," Michaels said. "She comes from a real noble heritage. She's just a great singer, and I've wanted to have her here for a long time."

O'Brien said she and Moore make sure to transform any song they perform into something that is unique to them.

"It's a bit of a long process. It starts with finding a song that is interesting, whether it's melodically or lyrically. It takes a long time to get away from the original version. We don't want to sound just like an identical cover version, we want to make it our own," O'Brien said. "There have been times where we've had to abandon songs when we couldn't make it work outside of its original sound."

O'Brien said she and Moore see themselves as storytellers, so they seek out songs with compelling lyrics.

"Of course, a really good love song is really great. Being able to sing about the thrill of love or the agony of breaking up is emotionally really fun to do," O'Brien said. "We long for interesting stories of people's lives and human interest stuff. We're working on a song told from the standpoint of a woman soldier now. It's an amazing thing to think about the guise of human life and what happens to people."

Michaels said the music of Americana is founded in strong storytelling.


"When you hear a really great singer, the key thing is that they are telling you their stories," Michaels said. "Their voice is a window, not only into their soul, but into our larger soul as an audience."

O'Brien said their status as storytellers is compounded by the format of their concerts, with Moore performing the acoustic guitar and O'Brien singing without any additional backup.

"I think people appreciate that there's enough space that you can really focus on the lyrics," O'Brien said. "It's important to leave that space there. We're not about seeing how many notes we can play or sing in a measure."

In the rush to impress people with their talent, O'Brien said many musicians lose their connection to the composition and the audience by trying to show off.

"There's some fabulous young players out here these days, but as you get older you realize maybe less is more," O'Brien said. "People appreciate the playing and all that, but if someone is playing too much it outweighs what is being said in the song, and it kind of loses the impact of the message. You want to just tell them 'Hey guys, just chill out and play.'"

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or


If You Go

What: Mollie O'Brien and Rich Moore

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster

Cost: $25 adults, $22 seniors older than 65, children younger than 19 and McDaniel students.

For more information: Visit or call 410-848-7272.