I heard Mandolin Orange for the first time a little over a year ago after they were recommended by somebody I worked with. I was immediately taken by their sound and I really enjoyed their 2016 release Blindfaller so I didn’t hesitate when my editor ask me to review their new album, Tides of a Teardrop out February 1 on Yep Roc Records. Written by Andrew Marlin and performed with Emily Frantz on Guitar, fiddle and vocals (with touring band members Clint Mullican on bass, Josh Oliver on electric guitar, piano & more, plus Joe Westerlund on drums and percussion) it is a stunning testament to the power a collection of songs can wield.
“Golden Embers” is the lead track and it immediately tips its hand as to the songs that will follow. It is a perfect opening cut in that it puts Andrew Marlin’s heart worn voice up front, and perfectly paired it with Emily Frantz’s voice and fiddle to stunning result. Written for his father, the song deals with the emotional pain we sometimes like to bury deep down and ignore instead of acknowledging it. After listening to it 4-5 times I clicked forward to hear the next track. “The Wolves” is as close to damn near perfection you will hear in a song. Marlin’s voice is so inviting that you cannot resist the invitation to lose yourself in his songs. There is a nice electric guitar groove and it dances wonderfully with the sparse, yet impactful mandolin playing. I listened to it so many times my 13 year-old asked me if my cd player was stuck. Not sure why this one hit home the way it did but it did.
“Like You Used To” features Emily Frantz on lead vocals and is more upbeat with shuffling drums pushing it along. Frantz’s voice is so natural and unforced, so clean you hang on every word. The guitar work has a dreamy southern California feel and it perfectly complements this tale of a relationship that has to look back to the past for inspiration as the future no longer holds promise. “Lonely All the Time” is a classic country barroom tear jerker. It is the most country song on the album and the guitar, mandolin and fiddle all have their respect moments to shine between Marlin and Frantz’s vocals. “When She’s Feeling Blue” is heartbreaking, that is all. “Late September” is not too much better as it is a reflection on the death of Marlin’s mom and how he has perceived and handled things since her passing. Continuing the theme of loss which runs through the album, Marlin really seems to be making a point with this offering. As I listened I thought of those I have lost and those I am sure to lose and it was all I could do to not start bawling. To call this song a masterpiece would truly not do it justice. “Suspended in Heaven” is born of the hills of Appalachia with Marlin’s not quite high lonesome vocals paired with Frantz’s gentle harmony and expertly played mandolin. It wraps a three song combination that leaves the listener with a sonic slap to the psyche with its deep dive into death and mourning. “We Made Time” rounds out the collection and is one of the standout tracks in a collection full of standout tracks.
The thing I think I enjoyed about this album is how economical the band is. Not a moment is wasted, a note squandered, a lyric penned without meaning or a line delivered without impact. The stream of conscious lyrics coupled with the stunning musicianship brought to life by the partnership between Frantz and Marlin is such a welcome relief from so much of what passes as music these days. If this is what a two and a half year break between releases gets us I hope they wait three years before their next album. Kidding of course as I can’t wait to see what they come up with next and I selfishly don’t want to wait that long. I expect Tides of a Teardrop will garner more attention and more accolades and I cannot think of an album in recent memory that is more deserving. Pick up a copy this Friday and catch them on what is sure to be a sold-out tour this spring.