‘Nonet’ is compelling listening for these locked down times. In their blend of classic folk and Americana The Mammals, Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar plus an ensemble of seven, ask searching questions about our environment and society. What makes The Mammals so compelling is the optimism and good heart of their lyrics and their rich Americana sound. The apt title refers to this being their ninth album and recorded live with a group of nine. That is a large group but they switch deftly between gentle acoustic folk and country-rock.
The dreamy ‘Coming Down Off Summer’ evokes change and not just seasonal. Ungar almost whispers in a slightly Joni Mitchell way, “I’m comin’ down off summer, I’m comin’ down off fall/ All I got’s a handful of laminates hanging on the wall”. But as a reminder of the good times the band build up into a folky psychedelic jam that takes us back to those sun-soaked festivals.
Though dark, the gentle folk sound of ’What It All Is’ belies the harsh question “How long babe do we go on livin’ like this?” The swirly pedal steel and fiddle beckon to a simpler, timeless life,“it’s all been here far longer than you”. ‘If You Could Hear Me Now’ is a plea to save ourselves from our self-destructive path to oblivion.
Written while touring in Scotland ‘Someone’s Hurting’ looks back home to scenes of violence. The rumbling banjo adds menace to Ungar’s anguish that no matter how good things might be, you know that “someone’s hurtin’ somewhere”. In contrast ’California’ offers an image of the Golden State far from multi-lane highways as Ungar skips along with unrestrained joy. Sprinkling some soul into the folk brew ‘East Side West Side’ bobs along exuding strength and unity.
‘You Gotta Believe’ sums up the album with its expansive chorus of self-belief. Merenda and Ungar believe we can do something to change the world for the better. Their blend of resilience, kindness and optimism is very persuasive. The Mammals may have been around for two decades but in message and vibe, ‘Nonet’ is nothing short of sublime.