The Mammals have always prided themselves on "broadening the boundaries of folk." This has been apparent in their first two releases, Evolver and Rock That Babe, both of which retain a healthy folk sound while gently exploring other musical realms. Departure, however, takes the idea of broadening to an entirely different level. The title of the album was clearly not chosen haphazardly. The songs on this latest release by the quintet reach to the far borders of folk music, perhaps even past them, into the pastures of blues, rock, modern country, pop, even jazz. The album begins with an almost Police-like pop song, "Follow Me to Carthage," a criticism of contemporary American government and its mass media that avoids proselytization and condescension while still making its point. The theme of politics is prevalent on Departure, as it also is on the other Mammals albums, but the songs themselves are so strong as whole entities that this doesn't weigh the record down. The first actual "folk" song is four tracks deep, and delves into the hidden costs of war, and though the simple two-lined chorus, "Alone on the homestead/With the bones of the fallen dead," is sung in harmony, it seems lonelier with two than if it had been sung by just one person. The cover of León Gieco's "Sólo le Pido a Dios" is very similar to the original, which makes sense -- Gieco had performed with banjo player and vocalist Tao Rodriguez-Seeger's grandfather Pete -- and hauntingly beautiful, asking for the strength to avoid indifference. The other covers on the album (Morphine's "Do Not Go Quietly Unto Your Grave," Nirvana's "Come as You Are," and Porter Wagoner's "Satisfied Mind") are also good, and though Ruth Ungar lacks some of the raw emotion that Kurt Cobain had, when she and Michael Merenda sing "and I swear that I don't have a gun," they elicit images of pleading outlaws in the Wild West, for an overall dramatic and moving effect. This kind of melting pot of style has been done before by other artists, and often poorly, rendering their sound worse, not better. But this is not the case with the Mammals. Despite the eclecticism, Departure comes out as an organized, flowing piece of work. What was great about the Mammals before is still here -- their musicianship, their intelligent lyrics and memorable melodies, their love of folk -- but they've added new elements that push Departure forward into interesting territories and give them their best album to date.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown