The Mammals – Sunshiner

Album Review | Humble Abode Music | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

The Mammals blend together an earthy soul, glorious vocals, some front porch folk rock grit and a liberal pinch of weird. The long standing band return after a period away with the goals of raising social consciousness and raising a party spirit. “Culture War”, “Fork in the Road” and “The Flood” are Soul Folk with those close harmony layered vocals that always bring to mind The Byrds or The Grateful Dead at their most earthy. Mike Merenda’s rich voice against a fine soup of pedal steel, thick electric guitar chords and banjo just soars. This is a tight rocking band with punch and grit. Some lyrical quotes in “Culture War” place The Mammals firmly within the tradition of Folk Music as protest music and an instrument of positive social change. “Beautiful Girl” is a beautifully bare piece with Ruth Ungar’s voice recalling the crystalline intimacy of Karen Dalton. The Mammals are also a party band, and organ driven Ska stomper “Doctors Orders” talks to your feet with glorious fiddle and whooping vocals to get you moving with some of that Bad Manners meets Little Feat fire. “Maple Leaf” perfectly marries those soulful harmonies, raw southern rock sounds and an amazing groove. With its Memphis Brass licks, solid bass and perfect vocals this just screams radio hit. “Sunshiner” is another album triumph. Intimate folk vocals, hypnotic guitar and washes of shimmering pedal steel. I could listen to those perfectly pitched harmonies over and over, beautifully languid, when you’ve got Sarah Jarosz contributing to your heavenly backing choir you can’t go far wrong. Close your eyes and it’s the early 70s with Prelude’s “After the Goldrush” coming out of the speakers. “Staying Up Late” doesn’t break the perfectly blissed mood delivering a slice of Laura Nyro or Carole King piano balladeering. On this track and “My Baby Drinks Water”, Ruth Unger’s vocals continue to delight. Like “Another Man Done Gone” or “Find the Cost of Freedom”, the apparent simplicity of “My Baby Drinks Water” belies the depth and punch in this bluegrass spiritual. “When My Story Ends” is an upbeat affirming, reading of the last moments of life, like Phil Ochs “When I’m Gone”. “Big Ideas” is an anthemic sprawling track, taken at Neil Young slow burn tempo. Jacob Silver’s Bass, spare percussion and a shuffling electric piano lay down a beat, while Pedal Steel and keyboard atmospherics wash around us. Mike and Ruth lay down some intergalactic lullaby lyrics about big ideas and the whole tracks cooks with a hazy ambiance. Despite the ‘flat on your back’ like Dylan’s “Forever Young”, the overall effect as it closes is uplifting and positive as befits a fine album.