December 16, 2010

CD reviews: Mike & Ruthy, Kate Redgate, Deadly Gentlemen

Mike & Ruthy, “Million to One
  We first took notice of Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar-Merenda when their previous band the Mammals covered Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” as a stripped-down, slowed-down folk blues. Now out on their own as a duo they call Mike & Ruthy, the husband-and-wife team have released “Million to One,’’ an album of rockin’ folk tunes – or as we think of them, folkin’ rock tunes.
  The title, we guess, has something to do with the odds of the album actually coming out since it was funded by Kickstarter donations. But while the odds of making the album might have been long, the chance of fans liking it is a sure thing. The standout track is “Covered,” a blues rocker with the pair sharing lead vocals.
   Harmonies on the album are killer. They especially shine atop the walking bass and fiddle tune “As My Eyes Run Wild.” Those harmonies are backed by bassist Jose Ayerve, drummer Craig Santiago, and others on fiddle and pedal steel, adding to the organic sound. “Be the Boss” has Mike singing in early electric Dylan; “Who’s Who” is a fun mishmash of crazy vignettes; and “On the Road” showcases Ruthy’s gorgeous vocals on a song about band life: “Up one highway and down the next/finding banks that’ll cash our checks/smilin’ in the rear view mirror as another good town disappears/oh don’t you want to go on the road.” With this band? Yeah, that sounds like fun.

Kate Redgate “Nothing Tragic
  You get the feeling that with a little help, Kate Redgate’s songs would be right at home with the Nashville cats. Kate grew up in the Midwest and is now a full-blown New Englander. Similar to Lori McKenna, she’s a mom who has a calling to play music, though her sound is more straight-ahead country than Lori’s.
  “Into the Blues” rocks its country sound with help from drummer Zach Field and bassist Mike Miskis, with additional support from the great Kevin Barry on electric guitar and Tom West on organ.
  You can hear glimpses of Kate’s life stories in her lyrics: some hard times but always filled with resolve to keep on persevering. On the title track she sings “When your house is on fire you don’t think about what your next move will be/you grab the kids and you all jump out/run as far away as can be/when I said goodbye to you it was all that I could do/to pull these stakes out of the ground/it got a little messy here but you can rest assured my dear there’s nothing tragic here at all.”
  With songs such as “Walkin’ a Fine Line” and “Mississippi Moon” you can just picture Kate up on a honky-tonk bar stage somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line in front of a crowd of appreciatively dancing country fans.

Deadly Gentlemen, “Carry Me to Home
  You will either love or hate this album depending on how you feel about your bluegrass being mixed with rock and rap. Greg Liszt, the banjo player of Crooked Still, leads this foursome in some innovative – sometimes jarring – bluegrassy numbers. The tunes are mostly standards that have been reworked into new songs. The playing is virtuoso and the ideas are creative. The group – Stash Wyslouch on guitar, Mike Barnett on fiddle, Dominick Leslie on mandolin, and Sam Grisman on double bass – no doubt has fun, and the lyrics for such songs as “Police” (based on traditional song “Policeman”: “Drink my liquor with a pancake cold/Can a man make silver?/Can a man make gold?/You don’t need to be mad to need a method/Good to be the maker but bad to be the meth head?”) are comical.

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