He grew up listening to ska-punk and alternative rock radio, dreaming of becoming a songwriter on the political edge. She was raised at the intersection of folk and swing, daughter of fiddle master Jay Ungar and country songwriter Lyn Hardy. They met in NYC, just out of college, and went on to found “subversive acoustic stringband” The Mammals, one of the most popular folk rock bands of their generation. And when The Mammals split up, and they married, they spent their honeymoon in the studio, recording a debut duo album aptly called The Honeymoon Agenda.
Now, after two more full-length albums and over a decade of performance together, indie folk roots pair Mike + Ruthy, aka Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar, have established a reputation for breathtaking delivery and intimate performance, with exquisite songs and songcraft that combine catchy folk-pop choruses with honest, organic tradfolk and roots elements, played out on guitars, fiddle, banjo, ukulele, and a single microphone. Heralds of an American cultural awakening that values honesty and togetherness, prefers grit to glitz, and revels in the old-fashioned telling of a story, their most recent projects include a newly minted folk and roots festival called the Winter Hoot which brought Sprit Family Reunion, Amy Helm, Elizabeth Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Jeffrey Lewis, Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, and other Americana favorites to the Ashokan Center near their home in upstate NY, a haunting posthumous Woody Guthrie collaboration (“My New York City”) which lends its title to their most recent EP, and a growing family, with parent and child generations that regularly join them on tour and on stage.
But while it is true that, of the pair, it is Ruth who has the family connections, like many indiefolk musicians today, both Michael and Ruth perform and record in multiple modes, both within and beyond the boundaries of their core pairing. Indeed, the merging of his proto-rock radio grounding and her firm tradition has blossomed into a longstanding journey that ranges from soft blues to raucous tradfolk to grungy folkrock sets that frame them as exemplars of their age to critics and peers alike.
Michael Merenda often claims to see music as a way to both capture the world as a living, breathing organism, and to offer it love in the name of restoration; his three solo albums deliver on this adeptly, with outspoken lyrics delivered in a soft, breathy voice over stringwork and production that ranges from true-blue folk to more electrified roots rock fare. By this standard, their collaborative work together is a triumph: free and beautiful, true and sincere, and powerfully political, reflecting the quirky nuances of the world and resonating with the intimate selves we harbor within it.
Hailed as “one of acoustic America’s most revered musical duos,” an evening spent with Mike + Ruthy promises to thrill your senses, raise your spirits, and delve deep into your soul.