Local duo Mandolin Orange is growing up and out. Their Saturday night set at Local 506 showed that since coming together last July, Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin have kept themselves busy with writing and re-writing songs new and old.
Greg Humphreys opened the show with some gentle acoustic songs. His songs were simple, but not boring. Humphreys kept the crowd's ears with his neat blend of folk and jazz, a far cry from the funk-rock he usually creates with Hobex. Frantz and Marlin joined him for a few songs at the end of his set, but he did quite well on his own.
When Mandolin Orange hit the stage only a few minutes after Humphreys finished, it was clear that this would be something pretty different from the quiet, almost timid couple I had first seen open for Chatham County Line last November. Drummer James Wallace and bassist Jeff Crawford joined the pair onstage for nearly the entire set, bringing Mandolin Orange to a whole new level. It's no stretch to say that they've made some pretty substantial changes to their sound, but these changes enrich rather than detract.
These striking changes were most evident when the group launched into "Life on a String." On Quiet Little Room, the song is a haunting tune that draws its power from its poignant simplicity. What Mandolin Orange essentially did was turn it on its head with the addition of drums and electric bass to the fiddle and acoustic guitar. The song remains powerful, but in a totally different way. Instead of having a chill run up your spine, you're hit with drums so driving they feel like they're replacing your heartbeat.
Most of the band's set consisted of new material, with a few songs from Quiet Little Room and a couple of covers thrown in. Frantz ditched her fiddle towards the end of the set in favor of a beautiful old blue Fender Stratocaster. The band closed their set with a pair of Bob Dylan covers. It's fitting, as it seems that Mandolin Orange, too, has gone electric. However, the band's shift shouldn't create concern. Rather, you should celebrate that this band is growing and moving to a new, exciting place.
There's no word yet on when Mandolin Orange will be putting out their next full-length, but wherever they end up doing, it's certainly going to be an interesting ride.