The duo is a well-worn model for making folk music, but it works. Americana lend itself well to duets and harmonies, so very often, pairs just make sense. Mandolin Orange, made up of musicians Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, have successfully mastered the art of the partnership. Partly because they’re seasoned collaborative instrumentalists, and partly because, after almost a decade of playing together, they’re so open with one another—and, therefore, their listeners.
On Tides of A Teardrop, the North Carolina duo’s fifth studio album, Marlin and Frantz leave it all out to dry—loss, pain, heartbreak and the process of emerging from it all in one piece—in a way that feels more comforting than confessional. Tides of A Teardrop is a cozy cradle of acoustics and anecdotes on grief and love.
Marlin and Frantz, who share instrumental and songwriting duties, know how to draw maximum emotion from a song. On the very first track and second single, “Golden Embers,” they’re already seeking pathos and exploring nostalgia, greeting us “just like an old friend, kinder than expected.” It’s a track about making room for memories, even as grief abides (in Marlin’s case, the death of his mother). Later on the song, they proclaim, in a wizened sigh, “Loss has no end / it binds to our connection.” “Golden Embers” is a beautiful way of looking at life’s dark moments—maybe those pitfalls brings us closer together.
Nostalgia surfaces again on “Like You Used To,” a bouncing old-time tune slightly countryfied with spurts of slide guitar. “Love me like you used to way back when,” Frantz sings. Those words sound like a desperate plea, the bargaining of someone stuck in the past. But really they’re more reminiscent and acceptant. “If I can take your pain away, you never have to try,”
Frantz sings following a gentle slide guitar solo.
“Like You Used To” is slightly twangy, but Mandolin Orange sound more country than ever on the blunt “Lonely All The Time,” even as the instrument for which they’re named reminds us they’re forever tied to bluegrass. As the band’s name would imply, the mandolin really is the connector holding the whole record together. “I’m so tired of being lonely all the time,” Frantz and Marlin sing in unison on “Lonely,” as the mandolin chirps on in the background. The isolation woes sound a little less sad when those two voices sing them together.
This is a quiet album. But is there anything wrong with being quiet? Absolutely not, especially when an artist, like Mandolin Orange, makes an emboldened kind of peaceful music, tunes that loosely float along while simultaneously delivering deeply emotive stories. The songs on Tides of A Teardrop are slow-tempoed and even-tempered, but in a way that feels emotionally powerful.
That calm nearly becomes monotony as the record edges to a close. “Late September” sort of drags on as Marlin sings the small-town blues, “counting down to closing time.” “Time We Made Time,” however, feels like the perfect way to end a record. Marlin and Frantz sail out on a note of serenity. “It’s time we made time just for talking,” they sing. “It’s time we made time to heal.” Just like the character in the song, Mandolin Orange “softly, tenderly” use “delicate voices” to build up a kind of emotional first aid kit, helping you to patch up whatever needs some patching up. Like the album as a whole, “Time We Made Time” is a soothing slow-burn.