Preview Blindfaller by Mandolin Orange.
Blindfaller by Mandolin Orange
It takes considerable artistry to create music that sounds familiar yet wholly new. On their latest album Blindfaller, Mandolin Orange offers a catalog of classic country music styles that may sound old-school but reflect modern sensibilities and a wide range of influences.
Mandolin Orange—the duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz—possess serious musical chops, being excellent singers and instrumentalists (Marlin on mandolin, banjo and guitar; Frantz on violin and guitar). They are joined by a select group of friends to comprise a full ensemble for the record, which mixes folk, bluegrass, country and pop in a variety of ways.
The music on Blindfaller is mostly traditional country, folk and stringband played by people who are steeped in those traditions and have put in the thousands of hours of practice necessary to make virtuosity sound entirely natural and effortless. Marlin’s and Frantz’s voices carry the melody true and blend beautifully in harmony. The tunes occasionally offer subtle dashes of complex and jazzy touches, but they fit in so naturally you barely notice them.
The album opens conventionally enough with “Hey Stranger,” a tune that features guitar, banjo and mandolin locked in an intricate, medium-tempo dance. Frantz takes the lead and, in her pure and rich voice, warns the listener away from the life of a rover and bar fly. It’s a fairly standard theme for the genre. And there are other tunes that address familiar themes of unrequited love, loneliness and grief.
However, the recording is striking in the way that Marlin’s songwriting also addresses more challenging--and less orthodox--topics with nuance and sensitivity (and without being strident). For example, “Wildfire” explores the tension between the founding ideals of America’s founding and the reality of violence, racism and prejudice throughout the country’s history.
It should have been different, It could have been easy / But too much money to ever end slavery / The cry for war spread like wildfire
In one of the lighter moments on the album, Marlin repurposes the title of the Woody Guthrie song “Hard Travelin’” to craft a classic country tale of the challenges of living on the road. The entire ensemble responds with a rollicking honky-tonk sound, complete with dueling leads from mandolin, Telecaster and steel guitar.
Well, that whiskey will never hold you like a good girl can / When the nights get lonely, it can be your only friend / Hard travelin’, down the road.
The album returns to the predominant mood of quiet contemplation with a pair of somber tunes: “Gospel Shoes,” which critiques the ways that religion is used for political purpose, and “Take This Heart of Gold,” a note of regret to a lover as the singer heads out for another tour.
All in all, this is a beautiful and thoughtful album that is both timely and timeless. It affirms Mandolin Orange’s reputation as one of the best country-folk-bluegrass acts currently on the road.