It's hard not to invoke the names Gillian Welch and David Rawlings when discussing Mandolin Orange, the gospel, bluegrass, folk, and country-loving North Carolina duo responsible for the lovely, evocative, antebellum road trip of a record This Side of Jordan, but while multi-instrumentalist Andrew Marlin and violinist/guitarist Emily Frantz share Welch and Rawlings' gift for crafting songs that feel like dust bowl standards lost to time, they sound like they're from the 21st century instead magically conjured from an old woodcut. The duo's third release and first for Yep Roc, This Side of Jordan also invokes names like Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss, and the Civil Wars, offering up clever arrangements, familiar melodies, and lyrics that touch on contemporary themes as well as the holy folk trinity of life, love, and loss. Marlin and Frantz, life partners as well as musical companions, imbue standout close harmony cuts like "House of Stone," "There Was a Time," and the lovely closer "Until the Last Light Fades" with the kind of weathered empathy that can only come from two people who have spent a significant amount of time in freezing cars, cheap hotel rooms, and dusty, pre-dusk clubs waiting for the sound guy to arrive. Marlin's easy drawl is as inclusive as Frantz's is comforting, and when it's just the two of them, everything seems to fall into place, but some of the arrangements on the album, despite being perfectly executed, have a tendency to diminish the intimacy that the duo is so obviously capable of producing, especially on otherwise affecting cuts like "Waltz About Whiskey" and "Morphine Girl."
After the breakout critical success of Mandolin Orange's Yep Roc debut, 'This Side of Jordan,' you'd expect the relentless onslaught of touring that accompanied it to seep into the writing of the North Carolina duo's follow-up. You'd expect the sound to reflect long days on the road, long nights onstage, unfamiliar cities, countless miles. You'd expect the classic "road record." But you'd be wrong. "All of these songs are definitely a product of being on the road," says multi-instrumentalist/singer Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange's gorgeous new album, 'Such Jubilee,' "but they're not about the road."
Blindfaller builds on the acclaim of Mandolin Orange's breakthrough debut on Yep Roc Records, 2013's This Side of Jordan, and its follow-up, last year's Such Jubilee. Since then they've steadily picked up speed and fans they've earned from long stretches on the road, including appearances at Austin City Limits, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Newport Folk Festival, and Pickathon. It's been an auspicious journey for a pair who casually met at a bluegrass jam session in 2009.