There’s something special about Mike Mangione and the Union. Nothing that they do and none of the instruments that they use are particularly ground breaking, but their sound is so unique and so heartfelt that it stands above the rest. From the first note on Red-Winged Blackbird Man until the last, the album is felt, not heard. It’s understood, not thought about. It’s brilliant and unique and it does it effortlessly.
To call the sound of Mike Mangione and the Union folk rock would be a disservice. While it’s clearly both of those, there’s a huge amount of blues and even some orchestral parts to this album. The thing, I think, that separates this band from others is their use of the violin. While using the violin isn’t a huge departure for a band making folk music, the style on this album of a lush, constantly background violin is an incredible choice. For example, the first song, “Fields of Evermore”, is an incredible ballad that begins with cello and violin. This is the kind of song that makes me wish Evermore was a place in the Game of Thrones universe so that this song could be on the show. It’s perfect, haunting, melodic, and painfully beautiful.
Lonely is the shadow lit by the moon.
Heavy is the burden that comes too soon.
The fields are hot and heavy and filled with stone.
I’m going to work the land of my father ‘till the seed has been sown.
I’m going to make it rain somehow.
I’m gonna make it rain somehow.
On the fields of evermore.
The album’s first half is the slower of the two, mixing the soothing violin with Mangione’s beautiful voice and emotional lyrics. It’s a nice slow introduction to the uniqueness of the band. “Can You Love Me Falling?” is a confession, a declaration of love. “Nothing here can save you now,/ Just say the words I’m yours.” Perhaps the slowest and most emotional song on Red-Winged Blackbird Man is “Cold, Cold Ground”. To hear a man tell the story of one of his lowest moment is difficult, but, in song, it becomes nearly impossible. “Burn in My Belly” is about an unrequited love and being scorned by it’s realization. The album’s most painful and honest line, “Am I in love with you or what I think is true?”
As good as the beginning of the album is, Red-Winged Blackbird Man doesn’t really hit its stride until the second half, starting with the title track. This is a blues romp with beautiful electric guitar riffs and a chorus that is classically blues. “I got blood dripping off my hands,/ I ain’t no phoenix rising, I’m the red winged blackbird man.” Many bands recently have been lamenting the current political situation, but none quite like the song “American Martyr”. This song perfectly captures the everyday experience of the everyman during the demise of the American Dream.
Mangione and friends, though, certainly saved the best for last. Two of the best tracks on the album help tie a perfect little ribbon around this one. “Somewhere, Somebody” is a beautifully written song that seeps into you. It’s the kind of song that can change your mood and make you relate it instead of the other way around. “Someday somebody, somewhere somehow. Somewhere somehow, someday somebody.” The last song is appropriately nostalgic and melancholy, though the juxtaposition of the music with the sentiment is a fun tact. “Dream of Home Once Again” is about holding those closest to you near and remembering who you care about and why. It’s a great way to cap off a nearly flawless, homegrown album. Mike Mangione and the Union will undoubtedly not get the recognition they deserve, but you’d be a fool to miss out on this masterpiece.