Mama’s Marmalade is a burst of sunshine that makes dark clouds dissipate with the band’s lush vocal harmonies and jammy acoustic newgrass blend of mandolin, banjo, violin, bass, and guitar. On June 2, the Northampton-based bluegrass quintet released its debut 10-track album, Goodbye, Black Velvet, which evokes the feeling of a Sunday drive on a warm summer evening.
The band consists of Rich Hennessy on banjo/vocals, Lily Sexton on violin/vocals, Sean Davis on guitar/ vocals, Mitch Bordage on mandolin and vocals, and Curtis Bordage on bass.
“Don’t Leave Home” opens the record with a shuffle from the banjo, an intricate guitar solo, and wistful lyrics about the ravages of love, presented in an upbeat rambling fashion. “Don’t leave home with a broken heart/ You’ll just be running away from what you couldn’t fix yesterday.” The vocal harmonies on the chorus are especially memorable and echo the dynamic vocals found on the Grateful Dead’s classic American Beauty.
Sexton takes lead vocals on “New England Blues” with a voice that has an old-timey feel, but with a more modern approach to songwriting. The song itself is a jammy number that wraps a song about loneliness and heartbreak in a melody that’s bittersweet. “Loneliness is nothing but a chore/ When you can’t be with the one you adore.”
“Petty Crimes” is an instrumental that’s a cross between a bluegrass epic and Celtic-inspired, upbeat, dancing sea shanty. All the instruments on this song display a virtuoso approach to improvised soloing. The mandolin has a gypsy jazz Django Reinhardt-inspired approach to presenting pleasing dissonance, while also being the first instrument to introduce the catchy and flighty lead melody with near effortlessness.
Sexton plays a long violin tone and says, “Start tapping your boots, Rich,” before going into the old timey tinged bluegrass standard, “Hop High My Lula Girl” that is reminiscent of the Mammals’ approach to covering classics that you might find off the Anthology of American Folk Music. Sexton sings with delightful twang vocals that alternate between light and exuberant, and the rest of the band follows the sensibility. Once again, top notch harmonies at the chorus are on full display.
“Ragdoll” opens with a rambling Deliverance sounding banjo solo that moves into a sucker punch hit that sets the wheels of the song into motion. This bustling, dancey song is about not being “tossed around” or having your “stitches ripped out” like a metaphorical ragdoll in a relationship. “I’m not your ragdoll baby/ Don’t think that I can’t feel the pain.”
The last song on the record, “You & I,” is a plaintive ballad that evokes a feeling of being at your end’s wits. Sexton vocals are heartbreaking and earnest. The loneliness that’s captured in this song is as good as any Hank Williams country tune that you could listen to.
The only drawback to this record is that some of the songs seem to blend into one another after listening to Goodbye, Black Velvet from beginning to end. However, the songs themselves are inviting and catchy enough to sway people who might not be the biggest fans of the genre, but also were pleasing the most ardent bluegrass lover.
To listen to or purchase Goodbye, Black Velvet visit mammasmarmalade1.bandcamp.com.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.