BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
On their third album — or fourth, if one counts the double disc banded together as their last effort, Haste Make/Hard Hearted Stranger — Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, collectively known as Mandolin Orange, probe deep into the human psyche and come up with a set of songs that rings with the spirit of the ages. Evoking the sentiments, if not exactly the sound, of Jackson Browne, the Band and various troubadours that traverse the expanse in-between, they create a sound that reflects the rugged resilience so common to heartland serenades, replete with fiddles, harmonica, piano, mandolin, acoustic guitars and the kind of forlorn harmonies that imbue a particular air of authenticity. And the music they create in the process — songs like “Turtle Dove & The Crow,” “There Was a Time,” “House of Stone” and “The Black Widow” being just a few among the many — boasts an uncommon beauty, a sound so affecting it’s practically impossible not to fall prey to its charm.
Solemn at times, but vibrant despite its innate intimacy, these offerings ring with a sense of redemption. And no wonder. Composed as Marlin was recovering from a disabling injury, they offer a certain hopefulness that’s sustained even in the most downturned invocations. “These days I’m saving my strength for us,” Marlin earnestly sings in “Calvary,” and given the aforementioned circumstance that surrounds it, the message rings true. This Side of Jordan ought to earn top contention for Americana album of the year thus far, and given the way it tugs on the heartstrings, there’s little reason to suspect that it won’t have earned that title by December’s end. An understated masterpiece, if ever there was one.
DOWNLOAD: “Calvary,” “The Black Widow,” “There Was a Time”