It’s beautiful when two people live and work together in harmony. Woodstock, NY’s Mike + Ruthy have been touring and recording together for thirteen years and married for six, and the sound just keeps getting sweeter. Maybe it’s their differences that make the whole thing work. Mike is an artfully prolific songwriter with an indie rock soul and feather-touch vocals. Ruthy is an earthy country-blues singer raised by folkies with the unmistakable stage presence of a natural-born performer. To Mike + Ruthy, music is not just a way of living, it’s a way of experiencing life.
As a duo Mike + Ruthy have refined their sound down to the very core of acoustic American music, demonstrating an uncommon ability to create songs as lyrically sophisticated as Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen and as harmonically beautiful as Gillian Welch & David Rawlings or Simon & Garfunkel. Says Mike, “My musical goals are similar to the ones I try to embody in life: to love the world the best I can. I want to explore the truth and beauty of daily life so that I can become re-enchanted with the world and, in turn, the world can become re-enchanted by me.” With their arsenal of fiddle, banjo, guitar, ukulele and their hallmark harmony singing, a Mike + Ruthy concert is overstuffed with soulful songs and stories and a timeless sound that is spellbinding and pure.
Their teamwork extends from songwriting and performing to recording and releasing their own albums on their small, independent label Humble Abode Music. The couple recorded their first duo album The Honeymoon Agenda instead of going on a honeymoon and followed that up with the acclaimed Waltz of the Chickadee and the fan-funded, Million to One which rose to the top 20 on the Americana music charts in 2010. On April 17th, they introduced The NYC EP a collection of six outstanding new songs which includes their newly re-crafted Woody Guthrie ballad, “My New York City.”
“We have been friends with the Guthries for many years. They are a vastly talented and loving bunch,” says Ruthy. “Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody, operates the Guthrie archive down in the lower Hudson Valley. Last year she sent us a beautiful document: the lyrics and melody to Woody’s ‘My New York City.’ There are thousands of songs in the archive, many with no recording or notated melody, and for various projects Nora has drawn in different artists to collaborate and record some of them. We immediately felt a deep connection to the lyrics, maybe because Mike and I lived in New York City when we first met and made music together.”
The audience reaction to the duo’s concert performances of “My New York City,” has been even more overwhelming, with many brought to tears by this deceptively simple song about love in the big city. “It feels like Woody wrote the words for a loved one, but now as we sing them it feels like a song to Woody himself,” adds Ruthy. Says Mike, “It’s always exhilarating performing a new song, especially when it receives such a powerful response as became the case with ‘My New York City.’ We wanted to get it recorded and released as soon as possible.”
Mike + Ruthy decided to collaborate with their friends, bassist Jacob Silver and drummer Robin Macmillan, who have converted a Williamsburg loft into an analog recording studio and recently began issuing 7″ vinyl releases of projects recorded in-house under the imprint Media Blitz Record Company. The collaboration was magic. The Jacob/Robin rhythm section floated on the pretty songs, rocked the old-timey stomps, and laid it down smooth on the blues numbers. One session turned into many and the four musicians harvested five more spirited tracks to accompany the shimmering new Woody premiere: Mike’s high-energy, banjo-strummer “On My Way Home”; Lil Green’s soulful “Romance in the Dark”; Ruthy’s sultry “Oh Mama”; Mike’s triumphant “Raise Your Glasses High” and his eloquent “Toast My Memory.” The foursome agreed that Media Blitz would release the two-song vinyl (“My New York City” and “On My Way Home”) and Mike + Ruthy’s independent label Humble Abode would print and release the EP as a CD.
In addition to being track one on Mike + Ruthy’s new EP, “My New York City” will be included in “My Name is New York” a four-CD collection of Woody’s New York songs performed by artists including Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Leadbelly, Tiny Robinson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan, Arlo Cuthrie and Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir which is being released in June by Woody Guthrie Publications.
As the daughter of fiddle legend, Jay Ungar, and country singer Lyn Hardy, Ruthy is no stranger to roots music and harmony singing. Despite her innate knowledge of American folk and country music, Ruthy opted to steer clear of the musician’s life and in 1997 moved to New York City to pursue a career in the theatre. It was in New York that Ruthy was introduced to Michael Merenda, an aspiring playwright and songwriter from New Hampshire who himself had just recently arrived in the big apple to test his mettle. With this meeting Ruthy’s interest in music was stoked, with Mike becoming entranced by the deep well of folk music from which Ruthy’s talent poured: the duo began collaborating immediately. A romantic relationship began shortly after the musical partnership was sparked and in 2000 the couple resettled just outside of Northampton, MA where they met Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (grandson of the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger) and formed the “subversive, acoustic, stringband” The Mammals.
The Mammals toured the world for seven years including trips to Australia, Denmark, and Canada and even a six month stint opening for and backing up the great Arlo Guthrie during his 40th Anniversary of Alice’s Restaurant tour which culminated at New York’s Carnegie Hall. With the birth of their son, Will, in 2008, Mike + Ruthy, announced a departure from The Mammals to focus on their growing family. During this time, Mike and Ruthy have further explored their joy in playing together. Now married settled just outside Woodstock, NY, they tour with a full band or as a duo and sometimes even share the stage with their show-stealing four-year-old son, Will.
Mike + Ruthy are on tour in 2012, with a springtime CD release tour and another national swing in the fall.
FOLK ROOTS DUO MIKE + RUTHY RELEASE NEW WOODY GUTHRIE SONG ON THE NYC EP – PRESS RELEASE
The adventure began with a magical document from the Guthrie Archive. We fooled around with the melody and quickly found a deep connection to “My New York City.” It was obvious that we had to travel down-state to record with the boys [Jacob Silver and Robin MacMillan]. The 1-inch tape rolled and the songs flowed free and wide like the mighty Hudson. And then, like the tidal river, things seemed to eddy and flow back upstream for a minute. Was this a two-song vinyl release or the beginnings of a full record? The answer came over late night beers with some long-time road cohorts. The NYC EP is a moment in time and space, a spirited session in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with wrinkles and rough edges intact.
– Mike + Ruthy liner notes to The NYC EP
NEW YORK – Folk roots duo Mike + Ruthy will release THE NYC EP, a collection of six songs featuring the premiere recording of Woody Guthrie’s “My New York City” on April 17th. In honor of Woody’s upcoming 100th birthday, Mike + Ruthy were invited by Woody’s daughter Nora to finish and record one of the many previously unrecorded songs housed in the Woody Guthrie Archive. The couple, who met and fell in love in New York City, immediately connected to the lyrics of Woody’s deceptively simple love song.
I can see our black roof housetops shining yonder in the rain
I can see our concrete highway running yonder in the sun
And I see your face there shining where the kids play in the streets
And a billion jillion windows that are New York town to me
– “My New York City” lyrics
Says Ruthy, “As our new melody notes and chords began to take shape we became even more affected by the beauty of Woody’s words. It sounds like he wrote the words for a loved one, but now, as we sing them, it feels like a song to Woody himself. It’s a huge honor to sing this song.”
Says Mike, “It’s always exhilarating to perform a new song, especially when it receives such a powerful response as became the case with ‘My New York City.’ We wanted to record it as soon as possible.”
Enter bassist Jacob Silver and drummer Robin Macmillan, life-long friends who converted their Williamsburg loft into an analog recording studio and recently began issuing 7″ vinyl releases under the imprint Media Blitz Record Company. They invited Mike + Ruthy down for a session where they would back up the duo on a handful of songs, two for a 7”, with the extra songs to be included on a digital download card. One session turned into many and the four musicians, who frequently tour together, harvested five more spirited tracks to accompany the shimmering new Woody premiere.
Mike adds, “Ours is the third release in their series which so far has focused on young folk singers from the NYC area. With Media Blitz being a boutique label focusing solely on vinyl and downloads and interest in these songs being so strong, they agreed to let us print and promote the release on CD as well through our own independent label, Humble Abode Music. With Woody as our inspiration, we’re ecstatic to see how far this home grown music will go.”
Along with “My New York City,” which features Woody’s music and lyrics with additional music by Mike + Ruthy, The NYC EP includes the following songs:
“On My Way Home” – This infectious banjo-driven tune has become one of Mike + Ruthy’s top live songs. For the recording the couple decided to leave in the “pre-roll” which can be heard as track 2, the 30 second “(banjo and bass duet).” Says Ruthy, “If you listen closely you can hear Jake singing ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ and all of this silliness reminds me of how excited we were to record this rockin’ song together.”
If this world should warm its shoulder
Well, I’m getting simpler as I get older
And age just makes the beauty smolder
I’m on my way, I’m on my way home
“Romance in the Dark” – Mike + Ruthy originally learned the song from a Nina Simone recording, but soon discovered it was written in 1940 by the Chicago blues singer, Lil Green, who died at the age of 34. “We worked out the uke and harmonica arrangement in a borrowed Mercury Grand Marquis during a long haul from Seattle to Calgary last March, having picked up the necessary harmonica in Cour D’Alene, Idaho,” says Ruthy. They won’t disclose who was driving.
But soon this dance will be ending, and you’re gonna be missed
Gee, I’m not pretending, Oh I swear it’s fun, fun to be kissed
In the dark, you will find, what the rest have left behind
Let them dance, we’re gonna find romance in the dark