Indie-roots trailblazers, The Mammals, are a high-octane Americana quintet from New York’s storied Hudson Valley carrying on the work of Pete Seeger & Woody Guthrie with a deep original repertoire, searing American roots sound, and a message of hope for humanity.
Known for their jubilant, high-energy shows, The Mammals deftly move from older-than-dirt banjo duets to sound-the-alarm topical fare that’s right in line with the times, bouncing from rafter raising hoe-downs to hear-a-pin-drop a cappella balladry.
Founded in 2001 by Seeger’s grandson, Tao, second generation fiddler/singer, Ruth Ungar, and multi-instrumental wordsmith, Mike Merenda, the original trio enjoyed a remarkable 7 year run that brought them to the largest folk festivals across North America, Australia and Denmark, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium (with stringband peers Nickel Creek), New York’s Carnegie Hall as the special guest of folk legend Arlo Guthrie, and to the pages of numerous publications lauding their unique “traditional-music-in-combat-boots-sound” including a feature in The New York Times handpicking them as a leader in a pack of new-wave stringbands “updating that old-time sound.”
After a considerable break from the project during which time Merenda and Ungar married and started a family, a bi-annual folk festival, and a musical duo aptly called, Mike + Ruthy, and Seeger pursuing a solo career before retiring from music all together to start a family of his own, The Mammals returned fronted by Merenda and Ungar in 2017 “stronger than ever” (Folk Alley) with a pair of politically charged singles, “Culture War” and “My Baby Drinks Water,” and the announcement of a new album in 2018.
The new album, Sunshiner, bottles The Mammals’ on-stage effervescence and lyrical intellect along with some very beautiful studio magic. Sunshiner bursts open with the soaring, up-tempo idealism of Merenda’s “Make It True,” with echoes of The Byrds, and then takes a more modern, Feist-inspired, turn with Ungar’s soulful plea,“Open The Door.” Over a decade ago, the Washington Post described The Mammals as, “gleefully aware that the sound barriers separating old-timey music, vintage pop and contemporary folk are as permeable as cotton.” This new record has that same tag-you’re-it playfulness with genre on full display, even evoking Laura Nyro on the intimate, spine-tingling piano trance “Stayin' Up Late.”
“It’s basically ‘think, dance, feel’” says Ungar of the repertoire on Sunshiner. Songs like “Culture War,” “Beautiful One,” “My Baby Drinks Water,” and the title track directly explore the troubling rifts between people and planet. Then it’s time to whoop up a ruckus on “Doctor’s Orders” and “Fork In The Road,” with fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass and drums as if to stomp the last shreds of worry into oblivion. And it’s no secret that some of their songs, particularly Ungar’s earthy blues and jazz-tinged numbers like “Maple Leaf” and “When My Story Ends” will make a grown mammal cry. And that’s ok too. It's all part of working our way through this tricky chapter of human history.
with opening act: Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno
Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno are tapping into the deepest parts of American music, taking old songs that have seldom been heard and presenting them next to their own timeless and visceral originals. When they are not performing as duo, they’re often found sitting knee to knee, playing under the canopy of trees at fiddle festivals across the country, such as the gathering where they met in June of 2016. Across any campground, or concert venue, the echos of their vibrant and magnetic harmonies ring out.