It's a good thing that Americana is such a wide-open genre, because if it wasn't, The Mike + Ruthy Band wouldn't have a home for their new album, "Bright as You Can." Sure, there are plenty of folk elements - "Word on the Street" can serve as the band's mission statement by including the line, "We kick ass together in this folky band." From there, however, fiddles and banjos share time with electric guitars and a horn section, as rock and R&B elements make their way into the music as well.
Mike Merenda (guitar, banjo, vocals) and Ruthy Ungar (guitar, fiddle, vocals) are the couple who front the band, and, fortunately, they have more than enough talent to make such a far-reaching album work.
Ungar may not have the most powerful vocals, but she knows how to deliver a soulful performance in "Rock on Little Jane," while the title track is more in her typical country-folk vein. The two duet on "What Are We Waiting For," a fast-paced, joyous tune that also happens to rock hard, thanks to electric guitars and Wurlitzer organ.
While there may be a little showmanship involved, the impressive part about "Bright as You Can" is that the band doesn't overreach or get too experimental for their own good. The lush instrumentation on the '60s rock-tinged "Legends Only Appear in Black & White" works as well as the stripped down sounds of "Freckled Ocean" or "Simple & Sober." Credit has to go to the rest of the band: Jacob Silver on bass, Charlie Rose on pedal steel and the aforementioned Wurlitzer and Konrad Meissner on drums.
Merenda and Ungar have had a varied background that includes his rock background, her folk background, and their combined work as part of The Mammals. They manage to bring everything together on this very impressive album.