There are a lot of great Americana acts out there in 2014, but North Carolina’s Mandolin Orange write tunes that strike me as especially existentially profound. The indie country duo seem to be honor students at the Townes Van Zandt school of balladry, and even when they veer toward the slightly more “popular” they actually resemble some of the Stones’ efforts to embrace the dustiest gospel sounds of the American South. They write ineffably brave songs about the least pleasant things to think about… And those that most desperately need to be thought about.
Mandolin Orange is comprised of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz and last year saw the release of their third album, This Side of Jordan, on Yep Roc Records. They are currently on tour with Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show, and will be making a stop upstairs at World Café Live on Thursday, May 22nd. I recently got a chance to chat with Marlin about their latest album, the live show, and just his favorite things about the band in general. I ask him to characterize This Side of Jordan, compared to the band’s previous efforts, and he tells me that it’s essentially just the band at their most focused and connected: “The process doesn’t change a whole lot. The more and more we get comfortable with what we’re good at, the better it gets and when we were recording This Side of Jordan we were kind of swimming in our comfort zone and I think it has some of the strongest songs we’ve put out and I also think it really shows the camaraderie between the players.”
Andrew Marlin tells me that he and Frantz are incredibly excited to be on the road with Willie Watson and that just being on the road is possibly their favorite thing about being a band: “Getting to make the music we love to make and to travel is the highlight of it all. We’re very fortunate to be able to do it as we do. It’s a very cool way to see the country.” He also tells me that these particular dates will see an enjoyably stripped form of the outfit: “It’s a very intimate version. It’s just me and Emily, just the two of us and that’s our comfort zone – it’s almost like playing with an extension of yourself.” However, the most interesting portion of our conversation is when we begin to discuss this new wave of Americana artists gaining widespread popularity. His take on the phenomenon is particularly insightful: “It’s because bands like The Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show came along and turned these acoustic instruments into pop instruments and now there’s been a kind of resurgence of folk music and people don’t view it as this, hokey, do-gooder music. And I think in a time like this, with everyone constantly on their phone, texting and searching the internet, the world is crying out for something a little more paired down.”