Music Review: Mike + Ruthy Band serve up musical melting pot

Jun 1, 2015, 1:12 PM
This photo provided by courtesy of The Mike + Ruthy Band shows the cover of the album, "Bright As You Can," by The Mike + Ruthy Band. (Christopher Gilner/The Mike + Ruthy Band via AP)
(Christopher Gilner/The Mike + Ruthy Band via AP)

The Mike + Ruthy Band, “Bright As You Can” (Thirty Tigers)

On “Bright As You Can,” the husband-and-wife duo The Mike + Ruthy Band sing that their heroes are all on the other side, and it’s true the album draw on sources a Smithsonian Folkways archivist would recognize.

But the Woodstock, New York, couple’s broad, colorful palette of Americana is timeless. Their musical melting pot combines country twang, Cajun chug, R&B swing and gospel fervor, and the result is distinctive material like the banjo funk of “Golden Eye.”

Such ambitious reach could have made for a disaster, but everything is masterfully performed as Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar sing about the charms of hard work, homemade wine and free parking. Amid the barn dance reverie created by fiddle, pedal steel, horns and more, Ruthy’s versatile alto is the most glorious instrument of all.

Not all of Mike and Ruthy’s musical influences are dead. “What Are We Waiting For” echoes Arcade Fire with an irresistible wordless singalong chorus, and “Goin’ Out” features a brass arrangement Tom Waits would love.

The album’s centerpiece does reference the hereafter, however, and for fans of the ’60s prone to sentimentality, “The Ghost of Richard Manuel” will bring tears of age.

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Music Review: Mike + Ruthy Band serve up musical melting pot