Excellent Storytelling Punctuated This Americana Show
Some friends told me how much they enjoy The Mike + Ruthy Band, so when I saw that they were beginning their album release tour at Club Passim, I made sure I would be in the audience. My friends were right – they are excellent musicians and songwriters who deliver a show that is much fun.
The day before this show, their new album Bright As You Can was released. There were people in the audience who had heard the songs, but the vast majority of us had not. Regardless, we were the lucky recipients of a high-energy show full of Americana, folk, roots music styles. I detected a strong note of country too, and loved it.
Mike Merenda plays guitar and banjo and Ruthy Ungar Merenda plays guitar, banjo, and fiddle, with each alternating on singing leads. They are joined, both on the new release as well as this show, by Charlie Rose on pedal steel and trumpet, Jacob Silver on bass, and Konrad Meissner on drums. I have seen Rose perform a number of times in other bands — he is a multi-instrumentalist who truly shines on the pedal steel. After the show, I told him I had no idea he played trumpet. His response? “I don’t!” He could have fooled everyone in the room.
Clearly, there is chemistry between Mike and Ruthy — a married couple — who also connect well with the other members of the band.
Ungar commented toward the beginning of the show that they talk a lot, and that proved to be true. Historically I have not been a fan of excess banter, since I am there to hear the music. But, as I get to know more musicians, I find I enjoy hearing about what influenced them to write the songs, or their funny stories about musicians they admire. One of the songs I enjoyed most at this show was prefaced by Merenda playing the guitar and telling the story of when they played a house concert in upstate New York. The story lasted at least five minutes before the band launched into one of the songs on the album. It was a great intro to the song that followed.
Merenda is an especially animated performer who was limited by the small size of the stage. I plan to see them again on a stage where he has more freedom of movement. I am a believer that most bands are better experienced live (in addition, of course, to owning their music), and The Mike + Ruthy Band is no exception.