THE MAMMALS – Nonet (Humble Abode Music HAM 018)

NonetThe Mammals’ Nonet is a warm (with a big organic vibe and nine-piece ensemble) folk album that touches a bit of rock and gospel and floats in its signature sound of (the usual) vocals and guitar, but is also coloured with a rather original brush of sweeping organ, fiddle, and pedal steel.

‘Coming Down Off Summer’ bends with the opening of that pedal steel harmonizing with a banjo (that pulses throughout the song). And then Ruth Unger’s vocals soar with a patient melody that’s framed with Mike Merenda’s harmony voice. The song pauses time, and then a piano, organ, guitar, and gentle percussion coda lands the tune with a gentle glide to Earth. It’s am lovely parachute of a song.

This is expansive folk music. ‘Radio Signal’ has a low-key a memory-etching melody, and it quietly throbs with keyboards (that glance at the sound of The Who’s ‘Baba O’ Riley’) and that pedal steel. It is a bit of a wobbly toss, but it rekindles the sound of (the great) Barclay James Harvest, circa Everyone Is Everybody Else, who also blended acoustic music with keyboard colours. ‘What It All Is’ (with Mike on vocals) catches a nice comfy country groove, with that glorious mixture of steel and fiddle, which is really nice signature of Mammals’ sound. Oh, and political commentary softly flows in the veins of the song.

And then ‘If You Could Hear Me Now’ simplifies the sound as Ruth sings a lovely Dylan-inspired song that (even after all these years) wants to ask about “cannonballs” and all the stuff that is still “blowin’ in the wind”. This is folk music with a deep Woody Guthrie root.

And speaking of Guthries, ‘Beyond Civilization’ flows with an Arlo wisdom-worried Hobo Lullaby pulse.

By the way, my download came with the five bonus songs, which show, like all of us (what with all the barbershops and hair salons shuttered), these Mammals’ roots are showing! These tunes are much more imbibed with bluegrass–old timey sawdust sounds. There’s the traditional ‘Hangman’s Reel’, Dylan’s ‘Let Me Die In My Footsteps’, two Mammals own Ruth Ungar tunes, ‘All The Things’ and ‘Four Blue Walls’, and Etta James’ ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’. These songs are loose; they breathe a lot of clear country air, and are simply a lot of fun to hear.

But (meanwhile) back at ranch of the album proper: ‘California’ is upbeat, melodic, absolutely wonderful, and certainly catches the California wave of a Joni Mitchell tune.

Oh my! ‘Someone’s Hurting’ begins with the absolute funky groove of The Band’s ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ with Mike Merenda’s bouncing banjo in place of Garth Hudson’s wah-wah clavinet. But the tune develops into big soulful delivery, with a great big “you can all join in” celebration chorus that sparks like a tune from Tracy Nelson and her (great) 70’s band, Mother Earth.

‘You Can Come To My House’ is, again, folk pop (and irresistible!) that’s clever enough to avoid “the two cats in the yard” and all that CSN stuff. But the song, ultimately, is about the singer’s digs. And it does sort of say, this is a “very, very, very, fine house”. Yeah, it’s a nice up-tempo catchy tune.

It’s just an idea, but this is such a personal weird déjà vu of an album. You see, albums just like this were all over the record store racks, circa 1972. It was a strange time in which young people just managed to record countless wonderful records. And buyers strayed from the obvious Stones and Chicago albums and took a chance on a band because of the label, some review in an underground paper like Crawdaddy, Circus, and Zoo World, or perhaps, just a really cool cover. And I took a chance on albums like Blue Jug, McGuinness Flint’s Happy Birthday, Ruthie Baby, Appaloosa, and (the brilliant) Seatrain’s Marblehead Messenger. These records were played into near infinity, and then, as way gives way to way, lost or sold, or given away. But then the CD revolution let us all capture our mis-spent youth and listen, once again, to these records, hopefully, with bonus tracks galore, a thick booklet with rare photos, and readable print.

So, as Tull’s Ian Anderson (and Gerald ‘Little Milton’ Bostock) said, “Spin me back down the years and days of my youth” because Nonet plugs into that sincere and organic sound of the 70’s. And, perhaps, some young record aficionado will ingest these grooves (vinyl is back!), and in silver-haired years, find a re-issue with heaven only knows what format, and breathe a delighted breath with the memory of this record from a (also and always) mis-spent youth. It’s a nice warm thought.

And this record is a nice warm thought.

But back to the music: ‘East Side West Side’ confirms this soulful 70’s vibe. We talked about “common ground” a lot back then. We don’t do that much anymore.

The final song, ‘You Gotta Believe’, is a full Nonet big group sound with yet another Arlo Guthrie inspired vocal. This song sings to the heavens and begs for relief—more rain, more honesty, more wisdom, and more of that “common ground”.

It’s an epic ending. And it will still be an epic ending, hopefully, many years hence.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘East Side West Side’ – official video: