The Mammals Glisten

Read our review of The Mammals warm Sunshiner

 

By Rob Dickens

 

 

 

 

The Artist

The Mammals

 

The Album

Sunshiner

 

The Cover

 

The Release Date

February 12, 2018

 

The Label

Humble Abode Music

 

The Introduction

The Mammals‘ emerged when Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar met in NYC in 2001.  Merenda is a highly acclaimed wordsmith and multi-instrumentalist, while Ungar is a terrific fiddler and daughter of the legendary (and Grammy awarded) fiddler Jay Ungar – most famous for the divine “Ashoken Farewell” and curating the first Transatlantic Sessions.  Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (grandson of Pete) joined in and trio were known at the time for subversive and political lyrics which tested the sensibilities of some audiences.

In the band’s first incarnation The Mammals enjoyed a remarkable seven-year run, playing the largest folk festivals across North America (Telluride Bluegrass, Vancouver Folk Fest, High Sierra), Australia (Woodford, Port Fairy, National) and Denmark (Tonder), Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium (with string band peers Nickel Creek), New York’s Carnegie Hall as the special guest of folk legend Arlo Guthrie, and the 2002 Winter Olympics with Pete Seeger.

During the band’s nine-year hiatus, in addition to producing the festivals Winter and Summer Hoots, these two kept busy touring with their two young children and recording five Mike + Ruthy albums including a 2012 EP featuring a much celebrated posthumous collaboration with Woody Guthrie called “My New York City” and Bright As You Can (2015).

This version of the band emerged, refreshed, revitalised and bringing with it a more mature and settled outlook.  That is not to say that what you have here is less edgy or provocative in its own way.  The principal members and songwriters remain Merenda (vocals, guitars, banjo, keyboard) and Ungar (vocals, fiddle, guitar ukulele).  Sunshiner features able collaborators Konrad Meissner (drums, percussion), Jacob Silver (bass), Ken Maiuri (keyboards, guitar) and Charlie Rose (pedal steel), some from the early Mammals days.

 

The Recording

Astutely chosen players contribute here mightily.  Brian Graham (sax), Phil Rodriguez (trumpet), Molly Mason (arco bass) and Jay Ungar (fiddle).  Some highly lauded harmony singers appear as well – Connor Kennedy, Sarah Jarosz, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Amy Helm, Lindsey Webster, Andy Stack and Lyn Hardy.  The album was recorded by Adam Armstrong at the band’s own studio Humble Abode Music in West Hurley (outside of Woodstock), New York.  In the process of writing and recording Sunshiner, a renewed energy began to take hold and the rebirth of the band became official.

 

The Quotes

Why is this new, full-band energy unleashing itself right now? “November 2016 was a turning point that made us all draw a slow breath,” says Ungar. “Overnight our earlier political-edged songs became relevant again. We felt compelled to reclaim the old mission of The Mammals and mix a bit more politics and hoedown into our live shows.”

I cry every time ‘Hey, beautiful girl…’ starts.” – Ani DiFranco on “Beautiful One”

“My Baby Drinks Water is the best new folk song I’ve heard in years.” – Steve Martin, Unreal Bluegrass

 

 

 

The Clip

Here’s “When The Story Ends”, shot live in their studio by their good friend Tom Schnaidt:

 

 

The Track List

  1. Make It True
  2. Open The Door
  3. Cultural War
  4. Beautiful One
  5. Fork In The Road
  6. Doctor’s Orders
  7. The Flood
  8. Maple Leaf
  9. Sunshiner
  10. Stayin’ Up Late
  11. Lilac Breeze
  12. My Baby Drinks Water
  13. When My Story Ends
  14. Big Ideas

 

The Verdict

For much of its length, Sunshiner is a very fine release.  Then something happens, the mood changes and it transcends to another plane, taking the listener to a higher, hypnotic level.

There are many early highlights here with striking and heartfelt ideas.  The harmonies in the rollicking “Make It True”, the biting commentary of the driving “Cultural War”, the tender and instructive “Beautiful One” and the dance-friendly, Zydeco-infused “Doctor’s Orders”.  “The Flood” rocks along with its blend of helplessness and humour.  As we progress through the album, “Maple Leaf” takes it even a notch higher, cutting a longing and soulful vibe.

The title track is a revelation.  Over five minutes of a whispering, mesmeric thrum with the oft-repeated lines “Yes, my Daddy was a miner / But I’m gonna be a Sunshiner” which will stay with you for a long time, bring a smile to your face and may even get you singing along.  The jazzy “Stayin’ Up Late” is the perfect variant ingredient for this rootsy recipe, with Ungar’s vocals commanding and winsome.  Lyn Hardy adds an attractive layer to the almost vocals-only “My Baby Drinks Water”.  You can make your own judgement on the penultimate track “When My Story Ends” from the video above.  The extended tour de force closer”Big Ideas” is long on groove and short of lyrics – seven/eight lines stretched over its ten-minute.  Gorgeous.

Sunshiner is a captivating collection, totally uplifting and enough warmth to get you through the coldest season – such is its touching staying power. 

Well, I’m just about out of laudatory adjectives! Sunshiner is one of the very best releases this year.  No doubt at all.

 

 

The Mammals Tour Dates

 

Via Ravenscroft Public Relations

 

Read our review of The Mammals warm Sunshiner

Read our review of The Mammals warm Sunshiner

Read our review of The Mammals warm Sunshiner

 

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Author: Rob Dickens

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