Players: Mike Merenda, guitar, harmonica; Ruth Ungar Merenda, guitar, vocals, violin, banjo
Material: Husband and wife duo Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar Merenda––the heart and soul of the Mammals, and a fixture on the folk/ Americana scene––have created an outfit that can include up to nine members at any given time (depending on the venue or project). The band’s messages reflect their mutual sense of social consciousness, from their views on politics to the environment, politely calling out injustices and raising concerns about how we treat each other as well as our planet. In “Someone’s Hurtin’,” they lament that while some may have it good, others need help. When it feels so good/ like you’re walkin’ on-air/ you know that someone’s hurtin’ somewhere. “When My Story Ends,” penned by Ungar Merenda following the loss of a friend that she learned of on Facebook, is a touching yet powerful statement about doing all you can while you are here with those you have touched: And I hope I get to say goodbye to all my friends/ When my story ends/ And if I don’t, I pray that we have all made amends/ When my story ends. They kicked off the set with “Rainbow Race,” by Pete Seeger, an artist whose messages are echoed by the duo and who sang their praises.
Musicianship: Ungar Merenda, the daughter of famed fiddler Jay Ungar, started playing fiddle early on, and one could say this music is in her blood. As lead singer, her emotive and consistent vocals effectively put the messages across. Mike Merenda weighs in with his own pleasing solo sound and offers effective and well-blended harmonic support and guitar work.
Performance: The bucolic setting of the Hudson Valley provided the perfect backdrop for the performance; a fitting reflection of the Mammals’ music. The set offered enough variety, but at times the flow was uneven, as the first two songs were much lengthier than the rest. Online viewing can be tough since the perception of time is altered and a live audience, absent. The second half of the set resumed with better pacing, and the duo always took the time to relate to their virtual spectators with a casual, laidback vibe.
Summary: With mindfulness and a sense of purpose, the Mammals’ music pushes the envelope in a gentle yet compelling way; never preachy or hitting you over the head with anyone's message. Their new album Nonet was recently released, its title referencing the nine members who contributed to the project.