By Aaron Stein
There is something about the first track of the first album of a band you haven’t heard before, or better yet have never even heard of before the CD fell into your lap for whatever reason. When it’s good, really good, it can be quite powerful – the feeling of getting into your car on a frosty morning, trying to operate normally while the heat starts to kick in, the brief shock of not being entirely comfortable. “Follow Me To Carthedge” is the first track on The Mammals’ new album Departure. It is an ambitious four minutes and forty seconds, punctuated by layers of glockenspiel and banjo and delicious songwriting that had me shivering with delight as my breath gasped out in twitching clouds. By the end of song, the warm air has started to flow, a comfort level is achieved, and the rest of the album can be appreciated for what it is. It’s a good album, one that I recommend wholeheartedly, but one that never retains that total body chill of track number one.
At its essence, The Mammals is a bluegrass band, but it’s truly the players' own vision of Americana, with finger-picked guitars, sweet melodies, and lots of tasty banjo playing. The vocals alternate between both the male and female variety and remind me at times of the bluesy Lucinda Williams, the earnest Dar Williams, and the ambitious Badly Drawn Boy. While the lyrics are occasionally rife with clichés, they are sung with a clarity and a conviction that gives them life and meaning all their own. My only other complaint about Departure is that it all comes off as if the band is taking itself much, much too seriously. Songs like “Do Not Go Quietly” (you can imagine what it’s about) are par for the course. On the other hand, “Alone on the Homestead” is the kind of quiet, beautiful, anti-war screed that would have been at home nestled between the Joni Mitchells and Bob Dylans of the mid 60’s.
A couple of surprises round out Departure, most notably a terrific cover of Nirvana’s classic “Come As You Are.” The harmonica-driven bluesiness of this one punctuates the range of what The Mammals can bring to the table. By the time you reach the end of the disc, it’s time to take off the hat and gloves, get cozy, and go around one more time.
JamBase | New York
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