The Mike + Ruthy Band: As Bright As You Can

Bright As You Can finds ballads and bluegrass a decided part of the mix, be it the shimmering steel guitar tempered “Chasin’ Gold” and “Freckled Ocean” or the opening good time romp of the title track itself. However, this pair are far more diverse than your typical back porch combo.

The Mike + Ruthy Band

As Bright As You Can

Label: Humble Abode Music / Thirty Tigers
US Release Date: 2015-06-02
UK Release Date: Import

If first impressions matter whatsoever, then a case could be made that the the Mike + Ruthy Band may have chosen a most misleading moniker. Without any further hint as to their MO, that simple pairing seems to suggest they’re smack full of homespun sentiments and down-home designs. Mike and Ruthy, the perfect couple, going about their business and simply making music.

To a certain extent, that’s an accurate assessment. Bright As You Can certainly finds ballads and bluegrass a decided part of the mix, be it the shimmering, steel guitar-tempered “Chasin’ Gold” and “Freckled Ocean” or the opening good-time romp of the title track itself. However, this pair are far more diverse than your typical back porch combo, and while a song like “The Ghost of Richard Manuel” may give some sort of indication as to where their sentiments lie, other titles indicate that any kind of quick categorization isn’t necessarily the best option. The sweep and sway of “Word on the Street,” the horn-infused “Rock on Little Jane” and the full-on onslaught of “What Are We Waiting For” dismiss any suggestion that these two are reticent to exert some musical muscle whenever they find it necessary.

Then again, it ought not be too surprising after all. This husband-wife duo come to their craft with some especially impressive credentials. Ruthy Ungar is the offspring of two venerable folk performers, Jay Ungar and Lyn Hardy, a birthright that first found her on stage at the age of three. She met her future husband Mike Merenda in the cramped confines of New York City arts underground and after veering off from their initial interest in theater, the formed a band called the Mammals, picking up fans in the persons of Pete Seeger, his grandson Tao and Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter and keeper of his legacy, all the way.

Consequently, with a diverse heritage and an undeniable catalog of marketable material to stand on, Mike & Ruthy have clearly established the fact that for all the ambiguity their handle might bear, they mine a strikingly diverse canon. It’s also quite clear that their reach stretches far beyond any simple, easily defined sentiments. That becomes increasingly evident on first listen to the album’s center piece, the single track that finds the brilliant Bright As You Can reduced to shades of gray. “Legends Only Appear In Black & White” provides a ghostly homage to those that have been here and gone, a song that quotes tradition and offers ominous overtures in the process. It’s a thoughtful number, and one that demonstrates the duo’s insight and intuition are forces to be considered

It’s that ability to go beyond the boundaries that allow the Mike + Ruthy Band to temper their folk finesse and do it so skilfully as well. Bright As You Can could indeed be the very thing that puts them in the vanguard of todays’s vibrant folk revival.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.