The Mammals | Nonet
(Humble Abode Music)
Recorded before the pandemic, Nonet is a tonic for these times. The sheer, organic beauty of the music dances with the love affair with nature interweaving many of the album's songs, which were written by the husband-and-wife team of Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar, the group's creative core. The Mammals' folk-roots credentials are well established, but on Nonet the group equally embraces gospel-soul ("Someone's Hurting," "East Side West Side") and Fleetwood Mac-style pop-rock ("California," "What It All Is") boasting catchy melodies, abundant hooks and layered, male-female vocal harmonies provided by band members plus an all-star lineup of Hudson Valley talent, including Kate Pierson (the B-52s) and Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie).
The revelation of the album, however, may be Ruth Ungar's gorgeous vocal instrument, with its subtle nuance, impeccable phrasing, and nakedly emotional tone. It would be easy to overlook the lyrics in her hands, so directly does she convey their meaning, but that would be a huge mistake—Merenda's "If You Could Hear Me Now," which Ungar sings, would have sat comfortably on Bob Dylan's second or third album. Merenda's gentle, idyllic ode to hospitality, "You Can Come to My House," is so inviting I may just drop by sometime soon. This homespun effort, recorded locally at the Clubhouse in Rhinebeck and Humble Abode Music in West Hurley, was coproduced by Merenda, Ungar, and Adam Armstrong. It includes a five-song bonus disc that captures the group jamming with their hair down.