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Mandolin Orange

Blindfaller – 2016 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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Mandolin Orange's Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin have steadily traveled the country, building a following and delivering a spare, but true, sound with great melodic appeal. Since Mandolin Orange's debut in 2010, the band has done a lot with their bare arrangements. Marlin carries the vocal load, with admirable support from Frantz from time to time. True to their name, they feature Marlin's mandolin, along with banjo and guitar work from both.

"Blindfaller" is a beautiful record, start to finish. As if to announce that she's taking a stronger vocal position, Emily Frantz opens with "Hey Stranger," a straight-forward approach to road life and things gathered and left behind there.

Taking on Frantz' metaphorical challenge, Marlin follows with "Wildfire," a rich and soulful saga of life in the South for the last two centuries. To be sure, it's a simple three-chord progression, but the song fits Marlin's range just right. The verses paint the picture and the chorus drives it home: "It could've been different. It should have been easy." At five and a half minutes, it's the longest song on "Blindfaller," but the listener is always surprised when it's over. It's that compelling.

Marlin's delivery is uniquely laid-in, but expressive. Frantz' harmonies complement him well (as on Picking Up The Pieces," "Take This Heart of Gold," "Lonesome Whistle" and "My Blinded Heart." The instrumental chops (acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, and fiddle) are not flashy or technically remarkable, but the breaks are rich and suit the material.

Although there are no missteps, the weakest link, "Cold Lover's Waltz," is only that because it seems like a re-work of Mandolin Orange's signature "Waltz About Whiskey," this time with Frantz doing the lead. But being accused of going to your own well once too often is not a criticism, just a caution. Each "Waltz," in its own way, is most pleasant, but a listener should not expect to hear them on the same bill or at least within 10 songs of one another.

Frantz and Marlin weave a tight, taut fabric of authentic American music. They found their stride long ago on the road, but "Blindfaller" shares it, in full voice, for the world to hear and enjoy.