Abbie Gardner is the Dobro player and the animated leader of the acoustic folk/bluegrass female trio Red Molly. She's an accomplished songwriter who has done the solo trip once before, for 2011's "Hope." But, while that one stayed close to her Red Molly sound, "Wishes on a Neon Sign" is a genre crossing, bigger sounding effort, replete with swirling keyboards, background singers and electric guitars. Produced by Michael Bellar, who also plays a myriad of keyboards which anchor the sound, and a host of New York musicians, this album has a bustling energy reflective of its title and cover art.
Gardner says, "The record feels like a love letter to NYC. I love the contrast here - how darkness makes Times Square shine brighter, how New Yorkers can see so gruff but will help you the instant you fall...And here I am a contrast myself....a female singer/songwriter playing the Dobro a traditionally male-dominated bluegrass instrument, taking the instrument pretty far from bluegrass and doing it in the city." Gardner's Dobro is featured prominently in "Afraid of Love" and "Starting from Scratch" while "Let It Out' is a lap steel excursion and "Empty Suit" is done with an acoustic slide.
Gardner has stretched herself beyond bluegrass over the past several years. She's been a jazz singer and shows that side on the live jazz trio track "What Gives You the Right." "Burn Me Down" has a Latin feel and the shuffle "Afraid of Love" has a Norah Jones quality. The emphasis, however, is clearly on songwriting with many of these songs being birthed at an all-female songwriting collective, "Real Women, Real Songs." The honky-tonk opener "Once the Teardrops Start to Fall" is the only cover, a Claire Lynch tune. "Copper Ponies" appeared in its three-part harmony original version on Red Molly's "Red" album but here she renders it as a ukulele duet with Bellar.
Beyond Gardner's strong contributions, she has three co-writes that stand out as the best tracks, especially the slow burning ballad, "Bad Leaver," written with Chris Stapleton. She pairs with her Red Molly band mate Molly Venter for "Cold Black Water," a folk/pop tune with a mother-daughter theme set on the rocky Oregon coast. "Empty Suit," written with David Olney, rocks harder than anything else with its swampy vibe.
Gardner has made the most of her hiatus from touring with Red Molly by broadening her musical palette and giving life to a wide range of emotions.