- May 19, 2020
- Kim Ruehl
- Hear It First
by Kim Ruehl (@kimruehl), Folk Alley
With nine members, for their ninth album in almost 20 years, the Mammals have readied a collection of songs that drip with raw humanity, titled, appropriately, Nonet.
Recorded before Covid-19 took over the headlines and separated us from one another for a spell, Nonet is a welcome reminder of the intuition that can bounce off the walls when a group of people get together and make art.
Lyrically, it ebbs and flows from the onset of autumn (“Coming Down Off Summer”) and friendship (“You Can Come to My House”), to ideas about interconnectivity (“Someone’s Hurting Somewhere”), the health of our planet (“East Side West Side”), and our collective priorities as Americans and humans in general (“If You Could Hear Me Now”). In these ways, it’s not unlike what we’re used to from the Mammals. But, over so many years, the band has figured out how to navigate one another’s strengths, how to land a line with quiet power, when to throw down the proverbial windows and let the air in.
The layers of sound on “Radio Signal” are so much more enveloping than one or two people could make on their own. It feels like a new sonic landscape for this band that’s so rooted in traditional folk inclinations, yet somehow it doesn’t feel like a departure. Perhaps because the verses nod toward giants like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Daniel Quinn.
With different instruments, “California” could have veered toward old-timey jam. Instead, the band layered it with electric keys, banjo way in the background, just enough balance between Western pedal steel and a more old-school Bay Area hippy vibe, to drum up images of cruising along the PCH, past the beached seals, watching the sun set.
“Coming Down Off Summer,” opens the disc in a fit of casual irony, considering it releases just as summer is beginning to kick up. But, Mammals singer, songwriter, and fiddler Ruthy Ungar notes in the liners: “When summer ends and the first chilly night inspires a fire in our woodstove there’s a familiar sensation of returning home. Home from a summer of touring festivals, home to a very different rhythm and energy… . No bright lights, no standing ovations, no highways, no laughing groups of friends. But strong memories sparked by tokens like an old wristband or a faded hat say, ‘It was real!’ Does any of this sound familiar?”
“Here we are,” she adds, “along with everyone else, in a permanent feeling of fall.”
What was likely written as an album about where hope resides in a strange political season, reads now as an album about all the reasons to put our selves aside and protect our neighbors. After all, we humans are capable of all of this when we get together—the hope but also the layers of sound, the ability to turn darkness and fear into something you can crank up with the windows down. Something that can feel a little like freedom, even when you’re not leaving the house.
(** All weekly-ish livestream concerts are at 8pm (ET)/5pm (PT) via facebook.com/themammalsUSA and instagram.com/_themammals
unless otherwise noted.
Fri / Sat / Sun 5/22 - 5/24: Nonet "Release Parties” commentary and conversation with band members & team members joining in via Instagram Split Screen:
* Fri, 5/22 “SIDE A” 8pm (ET)
* Sat, 5/23 “SIDE B” 8pm (ET)
* Sun, 5/24 “BONUS DISK” 8pm (ET)
Fri, 5/30: “Peppe’s Birthday Weekend” show
Sat., 6/6: “Opal’s Birthday Weekend” show
Fri, 6/12: “Last Day of School” show
Sat, 6/20: "Clearwater Festival: Save the Sloop the Saved the River”
Fri, 6/26: “What Will the Future Hold?” show
Tue, 6/30: “Blissfest Presents” show
Visit: TheMammals.Love.com for updates on upcoming live streams, shows, The Hoot, and more!