Mandolin Orange seldom disappoint. The duo's spare, but fulsome songwriting captures a tone of rich tradition coupled with sensibilities of this century. "Tides Of A Teardrop," the latest release from Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, fulfills the promise of their earlier work.
The songs and their singers take center stage. The playing is crisp and evocative, but the core of Mandolin Orange's music is revealed in the lyrics.
Marlin captures sadness and longing, but drops hints of aspiration. His distinctive hesitative sing style suits his material. Frantz has a beautiful voice, but less idiosyncratic. It's a nice match.
The songwriting is powerful. There's some sadness afoot, most especially in the later songs in the collection. But all is not gloom: "Into The Sun," sung by Franz, is hopeful, if not entirely certain in its aspirations. The loping tempo of "Like You Used To Do" contrasts to its longing for past sparkle in a relationship.
The material is rich, but mostly straightforward. There's not much effort to scratch at the core of each song's existence; it is laid bare for the listener to discover and adapt to her own circumstance.
"Mother Deer" is an emblematic Mandolin Orange work. Hitching mandolin figures and Marlin's distinctive phrasing reveals itself as a simple devotion to a dear mother, not the forest animal. In a similar vein, "Lonely All The Time" meditates on a lost family life, albeit dressed up in a steel swing milieu.
"Tides of A Teardrop" seems deeply personal, but the underlying narrative remains out of reach. The selections, well constructed and beautifully performed, are allusions to loss and wanting. The listener joins in by bringing their own experiences to these evocative tunes. Mandolin Orange is assuredly cutting its own path, and we are asked to follow.