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The Mammals

Rock That Babe – 2004 (Signature Sounds)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by The Mammals

Appalachian bluegrass mixed with satiric commentary and new age aesthetics is this quintet's stock in trade. When they let fly on banjo and fiddle, The Mammals prove to be top-flight purveyors of old-time sounds. However, the New York-based combo's eclectic reach prevent this 13-song set from being a truly satisfying roots experience.

Guitarist Michael Merenda, fiddler Ruth Ungar banjo picker Tao Rodriguez (Pete Seeger's grandson), electric bassist Pierce Woodward, and percussionist Ken Mauri are remarkably versatile. Nearly every member doubles on another instrument, allowing them to conjure a thick studio sound. The finest moments come via full-throttle bluegrass la "Fall On My Knees," "John Henry" and the magnificent "D Medley." Played with seamless fire, these numbers highlight the group's considerable chops. Further, such politically provocative ditties as "The Bush Boys" and "Bad Shoes Blues" - beautifully sung by Ungar - are delivered with delightful ironic snap. Idealistic contrast comes via the lullaby-tempo rendition of poet Alan Ginsburg's "Lay Down Ye Mountain."

That said, too often the Mammals indulge in enigmatic Grateful Dead-influenced expositions such as the moody "Tinderbox," and the melancholy "Quite Early Morning" and "Go On Traveling." The result is a meandering album that frustrates more than it entertains or enlightens.