Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers CD Release Tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center

Molly Maher is the sort of musician you see once and never forget. She's got over a decade of experience playing around Minneapolis as one of the best guitarists in town, and it's obvious with every performance--there is no other path for Maher. If you have ever stumbled into Nye's on a Wednesday night, where Maher and her band of misfits (officially Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers) have held a steady residency for the past five years, you'll notice right away that the spirited country-folk-jam pouring out from the crammed corner soapbox of a stage is more like an extension of self for Maher than just another night on the job.

Maher's Disbelievers are made up of Erik Koskinen (guitar, vocals, and, technically, half band leader, also of Dead Man Winter), Noah Levy (drums), Frankie Lee (bass), Paul Bergen (guitar, Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls), all local veterans and accomplished musicians in their own right. It's like there's a secret underground music club in the Twin Cities, an anti-cool club where you don't really have to know anyone to get in, past all the emerging electronica stuff and on-the-pulse-of-music swag, where there are only two rules: 1) No pretense; 2) Like whiskey. (Or maybe it's whiskey first.)

Wednesday nights at Nye's look a lot like an industry night--musicians, critics, old friends, people who have been "in on the scene" since there was a scene--and yet, Molly Maher isn't breaking headlines. The kind of fame she's achieved has been a slow build, raised a little higher each year not on stretches of revolutionary new material, but on solid legs of music that is crafted on the dust of tradition--steel guitar, smooth songwriting, and easy rhythms that beckon your instinct. Her latest album, Merry Come Up, is an example in that style, with biting songs like "Chicken, No Bone" that embody the effortless soul of a night at Nye's.

"This new album is really a palate cleanser," said Maher, hunched against the wall outside Nye's between drags of a cigarette. "It's getting old songs out so we can write new stuff, and it's a celebration. We're up, we're doing this, and now it's time to move on from whatever the past was and starting fresh."

In "starting fresh", Maher could be referring to any number of things--her heartbreaks that feed her lyrics, the fighting heart of a Minneapolis blues musician, or her recent battle with (and survival of) breast cancer. Nothing captures this sentiment so much as the song "On Your Way Out Leave A Message", a slow, ambling pearl of a tune, where Maher's last request for a leaving lover can be interpreted as a gesture of closure--leaving things behind and moving forward. Then again, Merry Come Up is so solid it hurts; the progression, the pacing, and the playing are so paramount that it's hard to imagine what the next thing could look like.

As it turns out, the next thing has already arrived. Maher and Her Disbelievers have a new project in the works: Real-Phonic Radio Hour, broadcasting live from the James J. Hill Library in St. Paul, launching via an audio and video webcast on November 10th. It's an exploration and celebration of local and national American Roots music, a blend of discussion and playing and whatever else fits the theme.

"We'd love to tour on this record, but that doesn't exist anymore, and we're too old for it," laughed Maher. "So this radio show is a chance to brings what we do to a broader audience--radio, web, or wherever it's gonna spin out."

My brief interview with Maher was interrupted frequently by friends swinging by to wish her luck on her release, dropping off gifts (flowers and hot sauce) and patting backs. There's a sense of community that has been built around Maher and Her Disbelievers--one that the music has fostered and reinforced, an unshakeable sort of faith in whatever comes from the Real-Phonic crew (which is golden, even on a bad day). Maher knows this, though she's the first to admit that there's no such thing as a single spotlight for her.

"The great thing about our crew is that we're all pulling each other up," asserted Maher. "Yeah, it's my release, but Paul's playing, and he's putting a record out soon, Frankie's got a record coming... If one of us is standing in front at any given moment, then we reach back and pull the others up."

Molly Maher and her Disbelievers will be performing at the Cedar Cultural Center tonight alongside Jon Rodine for a dual CD release. Doors at 7 p.m. $15. (You should go.)

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