Monday, November 04, 2013
Album Review: Mandolin Orange - This Side of Jordan
Their previous release, the double album Haste Make/Hard Hearted Stranger, proved that they can be prolific and that their beautiful bluegrass rarely wears thin. This Side of Jordan elevates the duo above their peers with powerful themes and clever songwriting.
Mandolin Orange tackles subjects that are rare in bluegrass and Americana. “Hey Adam” is a loving pep talk for a gay friend. “Morphine Girl” was written while Marlin was on painkillers and has a delirious sway.
“Calvary” is Marlin at his most clever. The song is from the perspective of a nameless horse in The Lord of the Rings who receives little credit for his sacrifices throughout the various battles. By keeping the narrator’s species obscured, Marlin creates opportunity for empathy between human listeners and his equine narrator. Instead of being quirky or nerdy, the song is a meaningful rally cry for the under appreciated.
These unique songs make This Side of Jordan memorable, but Mandolin Orange’s execution of classic tropes is brilliant as well.
“If I showed up to your wedding wearing black wearing black and blue and red,” Frantz sings on “There Was A Time”, “wouldn’t seem fitting cause I’m as bruised and angry as I’ve ever been.”
This is some of Frantz’s best work. The subtle shift in her voice from anger in the barbed, stinging verses to the heartbreak as she sings “There was a time I called you mine” in the chorus makes this an ideal break up song.
This Side of Jordan is Mandolin Orange’s strongest and most focused album. It’s not only the best work of their young career, it’s one of the best records of the year.
Mandolin Orange will play the Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh January 10. Tickets start at $35.25 after fees.