Mike & Ruthy

Million to One

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Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar met, fell in love, and married while they were members of the Mammals, a folk band that was based in old-time music, but stretched the boundaries of the genre with an approach that added bluegrass, rock, and blues to the template. They were mostly acoustic, but eventually added a drummer and started moving toward mainstream pop. When the Mammals went on permanent hiatus, Mike and Ruthy stepped out as a duo and, with Million to One, their third album, they indulge their more folk-rock tendencies, at times even rocking out, albeit with a folky restraint. "Who's Who" sounds like the Rolling Stones on one of their country side trips. Ruthy's fiddle plays credible lead guitar lines, and the duo's "Who's who" refrain echoes the "who hoo" from "Sympathy for the Devil." Mike spews out a Dylanesque lyric full of incomprehensible word salad. Other strong rockers include "End of Time," a straightforward investigation of a relationship hovering between pleasure and pain with the duo delivering a whispered vocal while a decidedly un-country pedal steel guitar gently weeps in the background; "Covered," a thumping blues with a hint of gospel and fine harmony vocals; and "Be the Boss," a 4/4 rocker with ebullient call-and-response vocals and a muddy piano mixed in to give the track a vintage sound. Most of the songs deal with love in its various guises and show off the duo's winning lyrical and melodic style. "All the Way Down" is a jazzy soft rock tune with warm harmonies, humorous lyrics, and cheerful chiming guitar. "On the Road" is about the life of a traveling band, but without the usual rock angst. Its cheerful pedal steel and the sunny vocals give the tune a feel of contented melancholy. The quiet vocals on "That's What I Call Love" are almost lost in the mix, but the rippling guitars and the long sustained notes of the electric bass complement Ruthy's moody muddled vocal. Grace notes from a glockenspiel and the syncopated thump of a bass drum drive "Summer Sun." It wraps up the album adding an exotic hint of Middle Eastern modality to its undulating rhythm.

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