Mandolin Orange Swims Against the Current in 'Tides of a Teardrop' February 26, 2019 15:48
Words by Josh Hettermann
Long gone are the days where most musical artists could be defined by a specific genre. To that point, it is no new phenomenon for musicians to straddle the lines between a far ranging sphere of sound and influence. You would be hard pressed to find passionate music fans that could pigeonhole icons such as Pink Floyd into one musical category. The same could be said for legendary artists such as John Prine, Fleetwood Mac and cult favorites like Ry Cooder. That being said, since founding Mandolin Orange in 2009 in Chapel Hill, NC, mandolinist Andrew Marlin and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz have created as unique and enigmatic a sound as any band we have seen in the modern music landscape. The group’s standout record Tides of a Teardrop, released earlier this month, is a shining example of the sheer talent and versatility as artists.
Due to the great success of their dynamic and critically acclaimed album Blindfaller in September 2016, which featured standout tracks such as “Hey Stranger” and “Wildfire,” there was reasonably high hopes and expectations for their newest output Tides of a Teardrop upon being announced in late Fall 2018. The duo’s remarkable vocal and instrumental harmonies and seamlessly effortless blending of folk, bluegrass and Americana in their past output justified said hype; it is no overstatement to say that Tides of a Teardrop meets these expectations and more.
Tides of a Teardrop’s first two tracks were two of the singles released over the months prior to the album’s release. The opening track, “Golden Embers,” was one of these singles. A somber, pensive track, its lyrics speak to a wounded soul reaching out to an old flame. The track features excellent use of a stand-up bass interlude towards the end of the song. “The Wolves” follows, and is undoubtedly a highlight of the album. Andrew Marlin’s vocals and virtuoso mandolin playing seem so effortless and organic that it transports the listener to a peaceful place. Circling back to the opening anecdote of this review, Marlin’s tone changes significantly from the track’s first chorus to its third and final one. He sings the first confidently and steadily, and transforms the third and final chorus with an uptick in his voice, expressing comfort and ease.
“Into the Sun” is a standout track that showcases Frantz’ beautiful, melodic range. The group’s lyrics range from heartbreak to hope, as Frantz sings, “Just a bird with a broken wing, longing to fly.”
“Lonely All the Time” displays their roots in traditional bluegrass, with a beautiful harmony between Marlin and Frantz. The supporting honky-tonk guitar provides a refreshing break from the twangy strings of the band’s two leads. Frantz and Marlin’s symmetrical verse to end the song recall the connection that legends George Jones and Tammy Wynette shared on their 1976 collaboration “Golden Ring.”
There is no doubt that the final track of any album is integral to its perception and legacy amongst fans and critics alike. More importantly, it allows the artist to nail down the ethos and tone that they wish to get across in their art. Tides of a Teardrop’s finale “Time We Made Time” absolutely cements this notion. Frantz’ fiddle carries a somber yet hopeful tune. The song evokes the memories of a distant romance where the participants can hope to always count on each other in times of need. A strong slide guitar and a heavily distorted finish call to mind psychedelic, exploratory rock. Marlin croons of discussions with a strained lover with the lyrics, “Softly, tenderly, using delicate voices.”
To put it simply, Tides of a Teardrop is a prolonged love letter. It is one full of hope, heartbreak and vulnerability. All of these themes carry discomfort and self-consciousness. By nature, these imperfect aspects of the human condition are undoubtedly difficult to address; this is why Mandolin Orange is so unique as an artist. They create an undeniably original sound, supported by the firebrand that is Frantz’ and Marlin’s virtuoso musicianship. It is refreshing to hear music so heartfelt and sensitive in this day and age, and Tides of a Teardrop is a perfect encapsulation of this true display of human emotion.
Stream the album in its entirety via Spotify here: