Carrboro’s Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz take fiddling around very seriously. As Mandolin Orange, the group’s self-titled EP boasts a set of seven classic bluegrass songs, demonstrating that despite ever-changing music trends, these musicians can make bluegrass basics appealing.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the album is its refusal to indulge a trendy, alt-country sound. In an era where bluegrass is about as popular as the blues, Mandolin Orange revives the oft-ignored genre without sacrificing its authenticity.
And unlike other male-female duos, Mandolin Orange’s vocal ability doesn’t rest on one member of the group. Marlin sings on the bulk of the EP, but Frantz’s vocals on “Where the Mockingbird Sings” don’t sound like a concession to the lesser member of the pair. Instead, her untainted voice soars, an oddly complementary counterpart to Marlin.
While every track broaches its subject matter with traditional, mellifluous bluegrass sensibility, the best songs on the EP are those that combine Marlin and Frantz’s wholesome vocals. “Another Seed” demonstrates the exquisite result of this pairing — the duo’s voices and instruments fit alongside each other like Johnny and June Carter Cash. The reference may elude many young college students today, but like the group’s legendary country predecessors, Mandolin Orange embodies the same backwoods lovebirds aesthetic.
Though Marlin and Frantz prove their merit as singers and instrumentalists, the EP eventually loses steam with a set of songs that rarely stray from quintessential bluegrass. Despite its spare, time-honored sound, the music eventually blends together, and while its traditionalism is refreshing at first, the listener craves differentiation by the end of the EP.
Mandolin Orange’s self-titled EP strikes an old-fashioned note that should resonate with listeners who appreciate the roots of modern-day groups like Fleet Foxes and Wilco. Though the band doesn’t stray far from the classical bluegrass of its musical predecessors, the bulk of the EP proves that there’s something to be said for venturing back in time.
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