The Mike + Ruthy BandThe Mike + Ruthy Band
Album: Bright As You Can
Label: Thirty Tigers
Tracks: 14

Not the catchiest of band names, nevertheless this 14 track collection is presently receiving fulsome praise in America's acoustic folk-country circles. Mike Merenda is probably not too well known, but he was a founder member of The Mammals, a New York folk rock outfit that was active between 2000 and 2008, alongside now wife Ruthy Ungar, the fiddle and banjo-uke playing daughter of country fiddle legend Jay Ungar and singer Lyn Hardy. The band released four albums, while the couple have three and one solo releases to their names, respectively, with Ungar also recording as part of both Sometymes Why and Wayfaring Strangers, both of which also feature Crooked Still's Aoife O'Donovan, who joins Kristin Andreassen (the third member of Sometymes Why) to provide harmonies here on the swampy bubbling Golden Eye.

Mike and Ruthy have previously released four albums as a duo, but this is their first outing as a full band, featuring Jacob Silver on bass, Charlie Rose on pedal steel and Konrad Meissner on drums and fleshed out on various tracks with horns, keyboards and, on Rock On Little Jane, a brass fuelled mid-tempo Band-like number offering words of wisdom to the couple's daughter, violin courtesy of Ungar's dad. Mentioning The Band, the album not only also features a fiddle and piano backed musically upbeat song titled The Ghost of Richard Manuel in tribute to their late lead singer and pianist, but two cuts, folksy acoustic ballad Freckled Ocean and Woodstock-era sounding rough edged psych-folk rocker Legends Only Appear In Black & White, featuring harmonies by Levon Helm's daughter, Amy.

Not that they need to lean on such associations to make their mark, the album working up a head of steam on the lively title track opener and the Buckingham-Nicks sounding What Are We Waiting For, nodding to their bluegrass influences with The Farmer and delivering keening ballads like pedal-steel kissed duet waltzer Word On The Street, the acoustic guitar and fiddle arranged Cigarette and Simple & Sober, a feelgood Appalachian-styled ballad inspired by both pregnancy and a friend's year of being clean. They also turn in a sultry slow New Orleans blues (complete with studio banter intro) with Goin' Out and round things off with Silver on upright bass and Rose on Wurlitzer for the tentatively optimistic healing from a broken heart slow sway ballad When The Sun Comes Around. So, not the most attention catching name perhaps, but certainly an album that warrants yours.

Mike Davies