This side of Jordan – by Mandolin Orange
My first impression upon hearing Mandolin Orange was – dammit, I wish it was Spring! This kind of country bluegrass music always makes me long for bare feet, warm breezes and fresh homemade drinks (mason jar, anyone?). I wasn’t actually commuting the day I cracked open this CD – I was headed back on a roadtrip from frozen Lake Erie, and the bleak, flat, snowy Ohio landscape certainly was in need of a little Spring feeling.
Mandolin Orange evokes memories of similar and well-loved nouveau folk artists Mindy Smith, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch. The sound is a little bluegrass, a little folk, lots of slow violins (should I say “fiddle”) and barely-there vocals by lead singer Andrew Marlin (joined by the delightful Emily Frantz). Oh, and don’t forget the mandolin of course! The album as a whole is very pleasant, and most of the songs are more than tolerable.
I do sometimes wish some of the tracks were louder and faster – I like rollicking, foot-stomping bluegrass more than wistful “front porch swinging” songs with breathy singers, but I can deal. Andrew’s voice is nothing special to me (feel free to disagree), and he doesn’t seem to sustain any note longer than one beat before dropping off (obviously an intentionally casual singing style that some people like), but Emily’s voice is just lovely and clear – when the two of them sing together, the harmonies ring strong and true. The overall effect is genuine and enjoyable.
“Turtle Dove & The Crow” is my favorite song on the album, because it is upbeat and pleasant; both singers are featured; and the violin is just flying in a natural, free way. The lyrics are friendly and poetic without being overly vague – and this track even includes the title line “just gotta drop me a line, this side of Jordan”. The second place song would be a tie between “House of Stone” and “Calvary” – they are both great examples of upbeat, yet folky tunes with thoughtful lyrics in a storyteller style.
My least favorite song is “Black Widow”. It just seems to wander around without going anywhere with any real conviction. Andrew Marlin’s voice just doesn’t do much for me again here, because it doesn’t seem to do much of anything – it could use just a little more “oomph”. I don’t much care for “the Runaround” either, for similar reasons. Also there is a glaringly corny use of the word “percolator” for a rhyme that just makes me cringe…
But put my petty criticisms aside – this is really a nice album by an original yet familiar-sounding band. It is great background music for the kitchen, a dinner party, or chill-out time at home. I usually need something with a little more energy for the morning commute, but that doesn’t mean that this album is without merit on its own for the right listening situation. I give it a B+, and I give my friend Bill a hearty thanks for the recommendation. Please check it out!
Link to Google Play to Preview Tracks:
Link to Amazon to purchase CD: