Americana-folk duo Mandolin Orange will play at the Knick next Friday as they continue on their national summer tour, which ends on Sept. 15 at the Fest at the Farm in Canton, Mass.
Formed in 2009 in Chapel Hill, N.C., Mandolin Orange consists of the group’s songwriter, Andrew Marlin, on vocals, mandolin, guitar and banjo, and Emily Frantz on vocals, violin and guitar.
Their music is characterized by strong, tight vocal harmonies and virtuosic musicianship. In the last three years, they have toured to general acclaim throughout the U.S and Europe, including appearances at Austin City Limits, South-by-Southwest, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Pickathon and Merlefest.
Mandolin Orange has produced five albums of Marlin’s original works all “bearing the stamp of folk, country, bluegrass, gospel and pop, all mingled in a unique melange perhaps best described simply as modern American roots music,” according to a comment on their Wikipedia page.
With their album “Blindfall,” released in 2016, said Marlin on the Mandolin Orange website, fans could “suddenly pick up on the power and devastation lurking in its quietude, the doom hiding beneath its unvarnished beauty.”
One critic said, “You’ll hear the way it magnifies the intimacy at the heart of the North Carolina duo’s music, as if they created their own musical language as they recorded it.”
“We talked about the feel of each song and pointed out loosely who was going to be taking solos, but it was mostly a lot of fresh takes, a lot of eye contact, and a lot of nods and weird winks,” said Marlin, who anchors the band.
Since then they’ve steadily picked up speed and fans they’ve earned from long stretches on the road.
As the duo’s songwriter, Marlin said he “sharpens his lyrical prowess here, touching on broad themes of growing older and feeling helpless in a world torn by injustice.”
In fact, there’s heartache by the numbers on “Blindfaller.” If you didn’t know better, you’d swear “Picking Up Pieces” is a tearjerker George Jones or Willie Nelson song back in the early 1970s.
It’s a Mandolin Orange original, of course, and also a poignant reminder of the economy and grace with which Marlin imbues his songs — say what’s important and scrap the rest.
A country dirge with soulful washes of pedal steel and mandolin, “Wildfire” details the the lingering, present-day devastation of slavery and the Civil War, with Marlin’s voice locking into close harmonies with Frantz on the chorus.
“Take This Heart of Gold” opens with perhaps the best classic-country line you’ll hear all year: “Take this heart of gold and melt it down.” (Marlin admits it was inspired by a Tom Waits lyric he misheard.)
But there’s also room for detours. Straight out of a honky tonk, “Hard Travelin’” lets the band shift into overdrive. A freewheeling ode to life on the road, it had been kicking around for a while but never fit on previous releases.
As for the album title, it’s meant to evoke a sense of wonder, of contemplation. A “faller” is someone who fells trees, and in this case that person is blind to his/her own actions and those of the world.
The spectral cover photo, by Scott McCormick, is open to interpretation, too: Either those trees are engulfed in flames or sunlight is pouring through them. It’s up to you.
“We wanted different vibes and different intuitions on these tracks,” Marlin said, “and I feel like we really captured that.”