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The Mammals

Review By Steven Stone
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The Mammals Evolver

CD Number: Humble Abode Music HAM 004


  Old-timey music has gotten to the point where it's multi-generational. Take The Mammals as an example. Pete Seeger's grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger joins Jay Unger and Molly Mason's daughter Ruth Unger, and art-pop songwriter Michael Merenda in a trio that combine old time material in a new au-courant package. Six of the fourteen selections are rearranged traditional songs such as "House Carpenter," Way Down the Old Plank Road," "John Brown's Dream," "Lady Margaret," "Wandering Boy" and something called "Infinity Medley" which combines "Yellow Barber," "Sail Away Ladies" with a pair of original instrumentals. Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and the old standard " Stairway to the Stars" joins six original songs including the very haunting tune penned by Michael Merenda,  "69 Pleasant St." The arrangement on "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is a god example of how The Mammals de-evolve a modern tune. Driven by a Claw hammer banjo combined with clogging percussion, their Carter-family-like two-part lead vocals move a 1990's song back into the 30's.

The array of instruments played by this trio could easily fill up a paragraph. Their musical weapons include fiddle, ukuleles, 6 and 12- string guitars, ronrroco, glockenspiel, electric bass, 5-string and longneck banjo, bodhran, percussion, and sewing machine. Musical guests include Jay Unger on fiddle and mandolin, Molly Mason on upright bass, Peter Ecklund on coronet, Liz Bustamante on keyboards, Johnny Irion on dobro, Sharon Leahy clogging, and Pete Seeger adding a monologue written by William James.

Recorded and mixed in their own Humble Abode studios by Max Feldman, whose past credits include U2 and Lou Reed, Evolver sounds much better than you would expect from a self-produced first release. In fact Evolver's sonics match the best I've heard from any major studio. The sound is warm, natural, and very clean. Even on the densest mixes such as "Wandering Boy" every part is distinct.

Fifty years American music, as performed by the Mammals, hasn't changed very much. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and that in the words of a certain recently disgraced home style guru, "is a good thing."




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