The Mike + Ruthy Band – Bright As You Can

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If first impressions matter whatsoever, then a case could be made
that the the Mike + Ruthy Band may have chosen a most misleading
moniker. Without any further hint as to their MO, that simple pairing
seems to suggest they’re smack full of homespun sentiments and down-home
designs. Mike and Ruthy, the perfect couple, going about their business
and simply making music.
To a certain extent, that’s an accurate assessment. Bright As You Can
certainly finds ballads and bluegrass a decided part of the mix, be it
the shimmering, steel guitar-tempered “Chasin’ Gold” and “Freckled
Ocean” or the opening good-time romp of the title track itself. However,
this pair are far more diverse than your typical back porch combo, and
while a song like “The Ghost of Richard Manuel” may give some sort of
indication as to where their sentiments lie, other titles indicate that
any kind of quick categorization isn’t necessarily the best option. The
sweep and sway of “Word on the Street,” the horn-infused “Rock on Little
Jane” and the full-on onslaught of “What Are We Waiting For” dismiss
any suggestion that these two are reticent to exert some musical muscle
whenever they find it necessary.
Then again, it ought not be too surprising after all. This
husband-wife duo come to their craft with some especially impressive
credentials. Ruthy Ungar is the offspring of two venerable folk
performers, Jay Ungar and Lyn Hardy, a birthright that first found her
on stage at the age of three. She met her future husband Mike Merenda in
the cramped confines of New York City arts underground and after
veering off from their initial interest in theater, the formed a band
called the Mammals, picking up fans in the persons of Pete Seeger, his
grandson Tao and Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter and keeper of his
legacy, all the way.
Consequently, with a diverse heritage and an undeniable catalog of
marketable material to stand on, Mike & Ruthy have clearly
established the fact that for all the ambiguity their handle might bear,
they mine a strikingly diverse canon. It’s also quite clear that their
reach stretches far beyond any simple, easily defined sentiments. That
becomes increasingly evident on first listen to the album’s center
piece, the single track that finds the brilliant Bright As You Can
reduced to shades of gray. “Legends Only Appear In Black & White”
provides a ghostly homage to those that have been here and gone, a song
that quotes tradition and offers ominous overtures in the process. It’s a
thoughtful number, and one that demonstrates the duo’s insight and
intuition are forces to be considered
It’s that ability to go beyond the boundaries that allow the Mike +
Ruthy Band to temper their folk finesse and do it so skilfully as well. Bright As You Can could indeed be the very thing that puts them in the vanguard of todays’s vibrant folk revival.

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