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MP3 The Mammals - Departure

The Mammals play a thoroughly engaging blend of old time music, punk, alt-country and folk, as they jump from genre to genre with their infectious mix of old school folk to punk-ishly delivered trad revisionism.

12 MP3 Songs in this album (49:05) !
Related styles: Rock: Americana, Folk: Political, Mood: Intellectual

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When you see a wildly successful young band building a huge and devoted following all over the world, the last thing you might expect is a departure. But that’s exactly what the Mammals have brought with their latest album, aptly titled Departure, on Signature Sounds.

Unlike their live shows and past Mammals albums, there is no traditional music on this album. There aren’t really any foot-stompers. And the politics, while still present in many of the songs, are more subtle, lurking powerfully below the surface. While you can still catch the band’s folky roots showing through in parts, the new album features noticeably more rock moments.

“Departure could easily get put in the rock section of a record store, yet the instrumentation of the band hasn’t changed much,” says Tao Rodriguez-Seeger. “We added some organ sounds and a few electric guitar overdubs, but for the most part, it’s fiddle, banjo, guitar, upright bass, drums and lots of singing. I’m most happy with the way it just sounds like a damn good band at the peak of their creative process.”

The Woodstock, NY-based Mammals, who formed in 2001, refuse to stand still musically. That they have thrived in the midst of a widespread old-time, neo-traditional movement indicates the open-mindedness of that community. The Mammals, a mainstay at major music festivals, are renowned for their unpredictable live shows and high-energy festival sets, and along the way, they have also built a reputation for being master interpreters of great songwriting. The Mammals’ own songs hit new heights on this album.

“Follow Me to Carthage,” which leads off the album, is a melodic and powerful long-viewed gander at history repeating itself. “Alone on the Homestead,” sung from the voice of a woman who has lost her entire family to a war, is a timeless protest song and hauntingly beautiful. Michael Merenda, who wrote the lovely ballad, sings the gender-bending lead vocal, with Ruth Ungar adding harmony.

On “Kiss the Break of the Day,” a wonderful song about traveling the USA, and “Tryin’ to Remember What City I Know You From,” two more Merenda-penned songs, Ungar gets the lead vocal call. And she soars.

With songs about the brutal effects of war and the costliness of consumer ignorance (“Silk Song”), this is at least in part a political album, though it shows a quieter kind of politics than the band has displayed in the past. “I don’t think of it so much as ‘We’re a political band’ as much as we are a politically aware group of artists,” says Merenda. “The political environment of our country, and the world for that matter, has been anything but subtle during the past six years, and that atmosphere, those stories, are undoubtedly going to make their way into our songs.”

On Departure, the band covers the famous South American protest anthem “Sólo le pido a Dios,” and the country ballad “Satisfied Mind.” They also reinvent songs from artists as diverse as Morphine (“Do Not Go Quietly Unto Your Grave”) and Nirvana (“Come as You Are”.)

“We’ve modernized old songs before, but this time we got to coax a contemporary song backwards a little bit,” says Ruth Ungar, who takes the lead vocals on the band’s somber version of the already-dark tune. “Tao’s harmonica and Chris’s drums create solid edges, and I sing it gently, take the edges off.”

“When I hear the album, I am struck by the calm,” she says. “There are dynamic arrangements and hard-hitting lyrics, but nothing jerky or out of control. Our previous records have more reckless abandon. This one is more polished and more heartfelt.”

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