Album Review – Mandolin Orange’s “Such Jubilee”
Like a jar of Smuckers, Mandolin Orange is full of smiles, sweetness, warm-feelings, and an honest to goodness wholesome good time … sold under a funny name.
I can remember a time when it felt like a romantic couple constituting their own band was considered somewhat of a musical faux pas. It was the whole Sonny and Cher, Captain and Tennille thing. They soured what otherwise was a really sweet idea, and a timeless way to make music. It was all just a little too sappy, so for years it seemed you would rarely see the performing couple outside of local folk circles or something. When the Civil Wars erupted with their platonic lineup, that always felt a little awkward too. How can you be so intimate in music, but leave it all behind offstage?
Now you’re seeing performing couples much more often, and not only is it beyond being a faux pas, it’s put forth some of the most enriching roots music over the last few years. Shovels & Rope, Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay, Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, and Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange are examples of romantic couples that are able to bring a joy and intimacy to music that only a couple can.
Yep Rock might seem like an unlikely home for a folky, bluegrass-like singing duo, but a lot about Mandolin Orange is unlikely and unique—that’s how they’ve been able to nestle into this vacant space where there once used to be many Appalachian acts made of couples and families who were plucked off their back porches and placed in front of recording machines to become a form of entertainment for others. That’s how Mandolin Orange makes happy ears for so many roots listeners, from folk and bluegrass fans, to traditional country listeners.
Such Jubilee is delivered as the duo rides the momentum of their 2013 gem This Side of Jordan which saw them go from North Carolina notables to recognized members of the Americana community. Last year they played the Newport Folk Fest and Pickathon to many favorable reviews—the two fests that can codify a roots band’s stature in the musicscape.
On the surface one might think there’s not enough here to hold the attention of listeners with just a two-piece ensemble and a single mic placed between them. But the genius of Mandolin Orange is in the subtle but intelligent way they compose their tunes, and the tenderness and care with which it is all delivered. It’s quiet, it’s careful and calculated, but it’s not eepish or hipsterish by being too lilting or stylized as you can sometimes find with duos. It’s also not too technical like some progressive bluegrass can go. Mandolin Orange has its own little crevice, and in that crevice these enchanting melodies thrive and these harmonies blend expertly, enhanced by these slight but important chord changes that create curiosity in the music without confusing the ear.
Even when the story might turn a little dark, like in the song “Rounder,” or Such Jubilee‘s most expressive moment “Blue Ruin,” the underlying love and hearth-like feel coats this music with an earthen glow like the light of a humble chimney stack. Like old folk and primitive country, thoughts of mortality are always near, but so is a deep appreciation for life. This is music to bask in the texture of.
As a two-piece duo that isn’t prone to veering too much off their path or putting any acrobatics into their music to gain attention, there will always be a certain capacity to the crowd it will draw. But Such Jubilee adds to the sweet little legacy of music that doesn’t just set heads to bobbing and limbs twitching, but fills the spirit with a light that glows long after the music ceases.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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May 7, 2015 @ 8:53 am
Great to see this reviewed here! And this review sums up the recording perfectly.
May 7, 2015 @ 10:04 am
I’ve heard the name before, but really didn’t know anything much about them. I like the song a lot and just might pick up this album. Thanks.
Bigfoot is Real (and gluten free)
May 7, 2015 @ 11:06 am
Good stuff. Yep Roc artists include lotsa Americana acts so it seems like a good label fit for them. You might want to give the Lowest Pair a listen as they are sorta, kinda comparable. http://thelowestpair.com/
May 7, 2015 @ 11:48 am
After reading the first sentence, I was afraid these guys were gonna be another overly cutesy, kitschy duo…good thing that isn’t the case! I’m enjoying what I’m hearing.
May 7, 2015 @ 2:54 pm
I am definitely intrigued. Will give it a listen tonight. Good review.
May 7, 2015 @ 4:06 pm
Because of this review alone, I might check out this album after I awake from the induced coma The Lowest Pair’s album put me in. I just need some time.
Bigfoot is Real (and gluten free)
May 8, 2015 @ 7:17 am
In a coma? I have seen them live and thought they were good. Album not so hot?
May 8, 2015 @ 1:01 pm
It’s probably more me than them. This year, especially the last two months, the new releases have been very sleepy – a lot of singer/songwriter, folky americana albums. It’s 90 degrees out and I’m ready for something to rock my speakers. And I’m not a fan of Kendl’s vocals on the album – that raspy whisper that’s all the rage a la Julie Miller and Scarlett O’Connor (Nashville).
With that said, I’d go see them in concert when they pass through. Seems like an album that would come to life after you see them live.
May 9, 2015 @ 8:03 am
Have you checked out “Blues Healer” by Jimbo Mathus? It came out a couple of weeks ago. A lot of gritty roots rock on that one.
Lions on Horses
May 7, 2015 @ 4:18 pm
This Side of Jordan was incredible. Beautiful, understated songs with lyrics that reward repeated listenings. Really looking forward to giving this one a listen. Thanks for reminding me it’s out!
if you ever have the chance to see them live, don’t miss it!
May 8, 2015 @ 8:28 am
“On the surface one might think there”™s not enough here to hold the attention of listeners with just a two-piece ensemble and a single mic placed between them. But the genius of Mandolin Orange is in the subtle but intelligent way they compose their tunes, and the tenderness and care with which it is all delivered.”…..Exactly , Trigger .
Milk Carton Kids , Civil Wars ( as mentioned ) Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings are a few other ” minimalist ” musical adventures which work extremely well in delivering the goods . Its all about choosing the goods you will deliver . If you have two voices and two instrumentalists in that tandem its amazing how ‘large’ and musical and emotionally evocative it can be .
I like the sound of Mandolin Orange …and the name . …I just haven’t quite heard THE song from them yet .
And again I ask …When do you sleep Trigger ??
May 8, 2015 @ 8:46 am
Beautiful review, Trigger. You captured MO perfectly: “Like old folk and primitive country, thoughts of mortality are always near, but so is a deep appreciation for life. …Such Jubilee adds to the sweet little legacy of music that doesn”™t just set heads to bobbing and limbs twitching, but fills the spirit with a light that glows long after the music ceases.”
May 8, 2015 @ 12:55 pm
When dropping names of successful couples from the last few years..you forgot to mention Thompson Square. Lol jk
May 8, 2015 @ 1:43 pm
Excellent music and good lyrics, but the vocals fall somewhat flat as far as I am concerned. The song posted above uses the overly soft male vocal style prevalent in modern popular music (like Ed Sheeran, for example).
May 8, 2015 @ 3:19 pm
I love a band with a clever name!
May 8, 2015 @ 8:41 pm
I can’t even explain how happy i am to see that you are reviewing these two. I have kind of an interesting story. So a local musician from the town i’m from on the OBX was in Chapel Hill one day and was sitting on his backporch and heard someone playing a beautiful mandolin next door so he went over and knocked on the door and asked to jam with them. (this was about 5 years back.) Turns out that it was these two and the guy is the cousin of my old principal so he invited them down to visit and play on the island and they have been coming back every year since. I have had the pleasure to meet and talk with both of these artist and you wont meet a kinder couple than that. Two very class act people that create beautiful music.
May 9, 2015 @ 7:29 am
Really digging this band. Thanks for reviewing this
May 9, 2015 @ 7:52 am
First heard of these guys with This Side of Jordan and am loving Such Jubilee as well. The Honey Dewdrops are another phenomenal bluegrass/folk duo who just released a new album called Tangled Country (would love to see a review!). Two of the best duos out there as far as I’m concerned.