Review of Mandolin Orange’s Sweet Southern Sounds

Mandolin Orange

I will say right up front, that it takes a lot for me to enjoy country music. But Mandolin Orange don’t just meet the requirements, they make me think about taking bluegrass lessons and running away to work on a tobacco farm.

I got to Monarch a little late, just in time to hear the support act. Though he goes by Ryan on a day-to-day basis, he records as The Dead Tongues. His fast-paced banjo work seemed to set a good tone for the evening.

So I squeezed through the packed out bar and tucked myself into a corner, having to move anytime anyone wanted to order a drink, go to the bathroom, or even just clap enthusiastically.

It was just a little cramped, but it was like being squashed in with friends (who you haven’t yet been introduced to admittedly, but friends nonetheless) who share a love for genuinely good music.

With the warmth of the reception for Mandolin Orange, you could even be forgiven for having thought for a moment that they are locals.

With the warmth of the reception for Mandolin Orange, you could even be forgiven for having thought for a moment that they are locals. But of course, they aren’t. They had never set foot in Berlin before. Their music, though, is gaining them devoted fans far from their native North Carolina.

They are in the middle of their second European tour in a year. And yet almost all of the dates were sold out long before they boarded a plane. So what is it about them that is attracting so many new fans?

I have to admit, it’s not the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. The quality of the musicianship is undeniable. Andrew Marlin (who writes all the music for the duo) is virtuosic on the mandolin, and Emily Frantz is as comfortable with bluegrass fiddle as either of them is with the guitar.

There is something more important than this though. The songs are filled to bursting with character.

There is something more important than this though. The songs are filled to bursting with character. It is hard to define exactly why. Maybe it’s the carefully crafted lyrics, maybe the lazy southern beats and simple melodies, or the beautiful mix of their voices.

But maybe it’s that every component of every song appears consciously designed to add to the tale being told. The guitar sets the mood, the voices explain the plot, and the mandolin brings the whole thing to life. It is as though Marlin’s mandolin has a voice and a story all of its own.

Though they treated us to two encores, I know I was not the only one left wanting more. Walking home, I listened to their newest album on repeat and hoped sincerely that Mandolin Orange will hurry back soon.

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