Mandolin Orange

Live Review | The Crescent, York | Review by Liam Wilkinson

North Carolina duo Mandolin Orange have been quietly acquiring a following of faithful fans over the last few years thanks to a steady release of quality albums, support performances and their own intimately engaging concerts. Since forming in 2009, Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin have remained loyal to a sound that uses a blend of bluegrass, gospel and folk as a jumping-off point to explore Marlin’s richly textured songwriting. The contemplative poetry of the songs provides suitable raw material for a musicianship that, whether on record or stage, plunges into the deeper and more seductive colours of the Americana palette.

The duo’s concert at The Crescent Community Venue in York this evening was suitably prefaced by Joey Landreth, the Canadian singer songwriter who is best known as one of alt country combo The Bros. Landreth. Joey warmed the crowd with a friendly and witty performance that left many of us wanting more. With a soulful and often acrobatic vocal that was pleasantly reminiscent of Lowell George, as well as a guitar style that moved effortlessly from spine-fizzing chords to supple solos, Landreth introduced us to a selection of his own songs such the heartfelt “Gone Girl”, the warm and sprawling “Better Now” and gutsy “Whiskey”, the title track of his new album. He also gave an impassioned reading of the timeless Ray Charles number “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” with a delivery that would give Lyle Lovett a run for his money.

Landreth’s support performance laid a suitable foundation for the rest of the evening’s show due, in part, to the fact that he shares his songwriting prowess, his age and, indeed, his dress sense with Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin. But whilst the maturity and strength of Marlin’s songs make this young duo stand out amongst the crowd of likeminded contemporary bluegrass artists, the ingredient essential to Mandolin Orange’s appeal lies within their taut musicianship and astounding harmonies. Rarely do two such distinct voices – his sharply commanding and hers sweetly mellow – come together to create a singularly absorbing sound. The captivating chemical reaction that takes place vocally is mirrored in the melding of Marlin’s mandolin and Frantz’s guitars and fiddle, especially during such stunning renditions of “Wildfire” and “Echo”, both highlights from the duo’s latest album Blindfaller. Such dexterity reached its climax, however, in tonight’s medley of fiddle tunes which prompted plenty of stomping, table tapping, whoops and hollers from an infatuated audience. The audible appreciation from the warm and welcoming York crowd continued during “My Blinded Heart” after a request from Emily to help get Andrew’s juices flowing. Thankfully, as Marlin pointed out, only creative juices were spilled and the front row were spared a literal soaking. And it was, perhaps, fortunate that the stage remained dry as the voltage of Marlin’s impassioned playing was raised for the upbeat “Hard Travellin’”, creating a tearing mandolin sound that, so, Emily admits, has made her immune to screaming babies on planes.

Tonight’s show concluded with an exquisite performance of the beautiful “Until the Last Light Fades” from the duo’s 2013 album This Side of Jordan which prompted the spellbound audience to demand an encore. Thankfully, the North Carolinians accepted the invitation and sent us home on a fine rendition of Tim O’Brien’s “Foreign Lander” and Marlin’s outstanding Cavalry.