Flying Cat Music presents a double bill concert of cutting edge Americana music featuring Robert Sarazin Blake and Mike + Ruthy on Saturday, November 22, at the Empire State Railway Museum located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. The show begins promptly at 7:30 p.m. with the doors opening at 7:00. Choose your admission price between $10 and $20. Reservations are encouraged to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 845-688-9453.
Any night that brings together Robert Sarazin Blake and Mike + Ruthy to perform is a good one. Expect warm interplay among these longtime friends in a special double bill show presenting two of the most adventurous acts in acoustic based roots music. All three are superb musicians who cross genres as effortlessly as most folks cross county lines.
It is difficult to characterize the type of music Robert Sarazin Blake creates. Perhaps that’s why descriptions of him tend to veer off into literary references. The Vinyl Anachronist observes: “Robert Sarazin Blake may be the closest thing we have to a beat poet in the 21st century.” A reviewer with All the Day Sounds described his reaction to an RSB concert this way: “Blake took the stage with a power and intensity that left me feeling that I had just witnessed Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, and a proton bomb all combined into one.”
A Robert Sarazin Blake show can double as performance art. That becomes apparent when reading this Wikipedia description of him, “Blake is generally considered a folk musician, though his music incorporates elements of traditional Celtic songwriters, modern punk rock, country, and blues all blended together with a heavy dose of improvisation.” It’s hard to juggle more genres than that, but the list omits a strong jazz influence which sometimes also emerges at a Robert Sarazin Blake show. Robert shifts naturally among them all, using different musical forms to propel and color his art the way a composer frames feelings using brass, keyboards, or strings.
At root though, Robert Sarazin Blake is a true folk singer. His songs sketch intimate vignettes of lives as deep as they are ordinary, sung in a wavering baritone voice that perfectly complements his acoustic guitar. In Blake’s hands that instrument is a double agent, weaving a deft soft finger picking spell that lures you into reflection during quiet moments, then floods you in insanely rapid percussive strum bursts at others, creating piercing emotional accents the way a drummer can with crashing cymbals. Throughout it all, the performance is always leavened by Robert’s quick and benevolent wit and the palpable sincerity with which he approaches his craft.
If Mike + Ruthy haven’t already been officially recognized as Ulster County’s folk ambassadors to the world, they should be. They are at the heart of an international wave of younger musicians who, for a decade or more, have lovingly and respectfully reinterpreted and reinvigorated what folk music means for a new generation of fans. Mike + Ruthy are Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar. LA Weekly calls their work “Some of the best songwriting of their generation” while Folk Alley calls them “one of acoustic America’s most revered musical duos.”
Mike and Ruthy were founding members of the groundbreaking folk rock band “The Mammals” which traveled the world for seven years to ever expanding audiences. After stepping away to start a family in 2008, Mike and Ruthy began performing as a duo (which sometimes expands into the Mike + Ruthy Band) releasing several acclaimed and mesmerizing albums that stretch musical horizons. If that weren’t enough, they also launched their very own folk festival, called “The Hoot” which is now beginning its third year of winter and summer gatherings at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge. In September 2013 they received a postcard from Pete Seeger telling them that the inaugural Summer Hoot they hosted in their Catskill Mountain backyard was “one of the best song-gatherings been to in all of 94 years.”
That’s probably because the Hoots mirror the exuberant vitality Mike + Ruthy bring to contemporary folk music, pulling in younger audiences by highlighting an eclectic mix of emerging stars in the field who revere old traditions while boldly forging new ones. It was at the Hoot that many here locally first heard Robert Sarazin Blake (who calls Bellingham, Washington home) perform. In true Hoot spirit, Mike + Ruthy will accompany Robert on stage for portions of his set in addition to playing their own.
The year 2015 is shaping up to be a ground breaking one for Mike + Ruthy, both as a duo and for their expanded band. It will see the release of their most definitive musical statement to date, a double record overstuffed with iconic Americana idioms ranging from Motown to Bluegrass, Old-time to Alt-country, all born again and re-imagined through their remarkable, soulful musical prism. Whatever Mike + Ruthy touch comes out hauntingly beautiful, and there is no finer place to hear them than the Empire State Railway Museum for this special performance.