Published May 01, 2015Mandolin Orange seems to have settled, perhaps prematurely, into a cozy Americana rocking chair for two. While this is their second album since signing with Yep Roc, it's actually the fourth recording by the North Carolina duo, Emily Frantz (guitar, fiddle) and Andrew Marlin (guitar, mandolin, banjo). There's a seductively casual, easygoing feel to Mandolin Orange's music, and though Such Jubilee is in keeping with their soft, folk-country sound, it might be time to ramp it up a notch.
New listeners will find Mandolin Orange reminiscent of other male-female folk duos, like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or Pharis and Jason Romero, but the pair have their own variation on that theme, with Marlin's gravel-yard vocals always front and centre and mandolin, but also fiddle, dressing up seemingly effortless songs. And while there is no showboating of their virtuosity here, Marlin and Frantz have the musical chops to embellish these songs nicely, and play nearly every instrument on the album save a few guest appearances by Josh Oliver.
Such Jubilee is warm and intimate, soft and simple. Lyrically, Marlin's songs dance around the domestic, full of visions of home and homecoming. Frantz's harmonies are understated, sometimes to a fault (turn her voice up in the mix, please), but one of the joys of two-part harmonies is that they can veer away from the tight lines that three-part harmonies impose. Once in a while, a bright note lights up a lyric unexpectedly, as on the opening track, "Old Ties and Companions." Frantz doesn't sing lead until "From Now On," five songs in, and the only disappointing thing about it is that it's a one-shot deal. Some of the more interesting songs come later in the album, with the electric guitar on "Blue Ruin" adding a great new dimension to a tragic retelling of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting. On "Daylight," though, the Wurlitzer seems to compete with the fiddle for the same musical space. The album's title comes from a lyric on the last track, "Of Which There Is No Like," a beautifully sung duet that rounds out the recording.
There is fine songwriting here, and as a standalone album, Such Jubilee is lovely. For their next offering, though, it would be nice to see this young pair leave the front porch behind and discover a different side of themselves, perhaps a little less understated and a bit more adventurous. (Yep Roc)