Jay Ungar and Molly Mason are best known for their waltz, “The Ashokan Farewell,” which became the centerpiece tune of the Ken Burns/PBS documentary about the American Civil War. They’re more than a one-trick pony, though, as they demonstrate on Relax Your Mind, in which they team up with the acoustic jazz combo Swingology. Together, they’ve recorded an album of laid-back western swing and swing-influenced dance music that hits all the right notes.
Ungar and Mason share the singing duties on the vocal numbers, with some help from Ruth Ungar. Jay sings on standards like Woody Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills” and Leadbelly’s “Relax Your Mind,” and his own nostalgia-laced “Backyard Symphony.” Mason leads on the Delmore Brothers’ “Blues Stay Away >From Me,” “Tampa,” “That River’s Taking Care of Me,” and her own “Bad Attitude,” as well as Guy Clark’s “Homegrown Tomatoes.” Mason has an especially pleasing voice and sings with lots of sass and swing.
Despite its laid-back nature, the band swings too, particularly the solid rhythm section, including Mason on guitar and Peter Davis on piano. On a Bob Wells medley, they capture the essence of swing, with the walking bass laying down a solid foundation, and the drums and cymbals providing the sizzling syncopation.
Outstanding tracks are the waltzes (hey, every dance set needs a waltz or two, right?), which feature just Ungar on fiddle and mandolin and Mason on guitar and bass. The traditional “Ookpik Waltz” really stands out, as does their arrangement of “Old Madera” with Ruth Ungar adding her fiddle; and Ungar’s “Blue River Waltz” is also very sweet.