For Andrew Marlin, the genesis of Mandolin Orange’s 3rd CD “This Side of Jordan” evolved from a near-tragic incident in his own life back in 2011 that occurred around the release of the duo’s 2nd CD.
(AM) “What happened was I was on this dam just down the road from where we live. It’s a popular swimming spot. It was a little early in the morning and I just got a little too close and fell over the dam. Luckily I just broke my pelvis, but it was an eye-opening experience. It could’ve gone so many ways. I think it had a huge impact on this record, opening up my eyes to mortality and how crazy just little instances like that go. I can go one way or the other so fast.”
But while Andrew says that accident definitely affected the production of “This Side of Jordan,” the spiritual aspect that runs throughout the disc may have come out anyway, given the style of music that he and partner Emily Frantz partake in.
“I grew up in the church. My mom, she always played for the church when I was growing up so I think those themes and a lot of the terminology that you would hear in those tunes were always present, but all those things run through old time music and traditional songs which is what we listen to a lot and sometimes try to emulate in our writing.”
And the writing appears to be the thing with Mandolin Orange. While both are good instrumentalists there’s nothing of the “hot picking” nature that you might find in acoustic music… more-so in bluegrass, less-so in old-time. Their instrumental style tends to draw attention not so much to musical prowess as it does to lyrical content.
(AM) “ They’re low key tunes with pretty melodies so we try to stick with that, stick to the same aesthetic when we take a solo.”
(EF) “I think the way we approach the song when we’re arranging them is make them sound, try and complement the song itself, the melody and the lyrics as much as possible. We love to jam and play bluegrass and old-time and go for it a little more on our instruments but that doesn’t really feel like that’s what needs to happen on these songs. We hold back a little more.”
Andrew acts as the duo’s chief songwriter with Emily heavily involved in arrangements and sometimes just as a sounding board. She says her opinion isn’t a “be all and end all” in Andrew’s process but at the same time…
“I usually try to softly put my opinion out there and then let him draw his own thought and hope his opinion is the same as mine.”
Still, the songs are mostly Andrew and more often drawing from his own experience. The somber tone of the disc might draw from his sense of mortality that arose from his 2011 accident. That in turn prompted some highly personal songs, the most personal perhaps being “Turtle Dove and the Crow.”
“Turtle Dove is a song where I’m kind of talking about my Dad and him going to see my Mom on the other side of Jordan. My mom died when I was 18 so dealing with that hardship alongside of my Dad and watching his progression as he kind of went down and now he’s coming out of the other side, that’s kind of what that’s about.”
But all the songs aren’t first-person narratives. Andrew tried something on “This Side of Jordan” he’d never experimented with before… a song not of his own experience or purely from imagination but drawn from the experience of others and trying to make it his own.
“When I wrote There was a Time I drew from a friend’s divorce experience, a lot of that is going to be left up to the imagination. I can only imagine a lot of the things he’s going through but I can only go on what he’s telling me. It inspired me to write that tune but I think most of that is drawn from how would I feel in that and what would run through my mind.”
But while the bulk of “This Side of Jordan” is highly personal songs that seem to preclude anyone else giving proper voice to them, Andrew did co-write one song which absolutely begs for other singers to take it up
“That was one I wrote with a friend of mine Dave Hutchinson. We were driving back from Asheville and decided, to try and stay awake we’d write a tune. He’s a really great songwriter. We put our heads together to write a standard-old country waltz, and that’s what that one came out to be. Went into it with the intention of writing a song about whiskey and it should be a waltz, and so that’s how a Waltz about Whiskey was born.”
To my own ear it’s a song tailor-made for Merle Haggard. But while standing out among the highly personal song that make up “Other Side of Jordan,” its writing did include one bow toward that sense of mortality that influences the disc.
“We weren’t drinking whiskey so that helped us stay on the road too.”
Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz make up the duo Mandolin Orange based out of Carrboro. Their new CD “This Side of Jordan” is available on Yep Roc Records. I’m George Olsen.