Mandolin Orange

Tuesday • Madison Live

May 20, 2015 at 10:13 am
click to enlarge Mandolin Orange
Mandolin Orange

If Robert Earl Keen and Kathleen Edwards formed a Bluegrass/Americana duo and managed to retain their individual identities while combining their collective talents into a distinct third direction, they would sound a lot like Mandolin Orange. North Carolina natives Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz have honed their harmonic gifts into a pretty fair translation of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris without drifting into slavish hero worship or clinical replication, incorporating all of their varied influences into a familiar yet unique form.

Marlin began playing guitar at 14, learning how to write and play at the same time. After absorbing the songbooks of Pearl Jam, Slayer and Pantera, he heard Magical Mystery Tour and obsessively taught himself The Beatles’ catalog, ultimately recording an album of like-minded material in 2007. Marlin’s move to Chapel Hill and his exposure to the Ricky Skaggs/Tony Rice collaboration inspired him to revisit his Gospel/old-time music roots and seek out players to explore that part of his musical psyche.

Frantz learned violin through the Suzuki method, but tired of its rigorous technique, abandoning it at 14 for the more freewheeling feel of Bluegrass. She had largely stopped playing when friends of Marlin invited her to a jam session and the pair began harmonizing on songs they both knew. Their clicked immediately, and subsequent get-togethers led to the inevitable conclusion that they should officially christen their partnership, settling on the punny but completely accurate Mandolin Orange.

The pair’s first self-released recording, 2010’s Quiet Little Room, was primarily covers. Mandolin Orange’s double-length sophomore album, 2011’s Haste Make/Hard Hearted Stranger, was a half-band/half-duo set. A relentless tour schedule and positive buzz on the first two albums ultimately led to a contract with Yep Roc Records. Mandolin Orange’s second album for the label, the just-released Such Jubilee, is a sometimes joyful, sometimes melancholy reflection of the importance, beauty and realities of home. And that’s ironic, because listening to Mandolin Orange feels exactly like going home.

MANDOLIN ORANGE plays Tuesday at Covington's Madison Live. Tickets/more info here .