REVIEW: Mandolin Orange – Sunflower Bar, Belfast
Following the release of latest album ‘Such Jubilee’ earlier this year the Open House Festival brings North Carolina duo Mandolin Orange to Belfast to play a sold out show and kick off their current tour.
Being true to their name, one half of the country folk duo, Andrew Marlin wastes no time in showing his ingenious mandolin skills. The opening number is scattered with complex arrangements and impressive plucking that delight the audience. A singular mic is shared for the vocals, being utilised by Marlin when he holds the mandolin close so we can fully hear every note that is being offered up. ‘That Wrecking Ball’ is introduced as an Old Time tune that delicately details the relationships of those we lean on. Some may construe the lyrics and music as being sombre but personally I find it hard not to get caught up in the gentle swaying rhythms and effortless harmonies. I mustn’t be the only one as an all-inclusive stillness falls over the crowd during every cluster of tracks that feature in tonight’s set.
Emily Frantz takes the lead in ‘There Was A Time’, a song that allows the full North Carolina twang of her voice to be let loose. With delicate fiddle/violin, whatever you’d prefer to call it, and backing from Marlin’s acoustic guitar the pure simplicity of the track is exposed with no effort made to disguise the raw emotion conveyed in the lyrics, a theme that is maintained throughout most of the material tonight. ‘Running Red’ is introduced as a heartbreak song and as one to go with the cold and rainy weather. Again, the audience seem to be deep in thought as the pair make their way through the tantalising tune. Stopping for a chat, Frantz and Marlin tell the story of the time they played in Omagh and about how they had spent their previous night down South enjoying the local music, and the Guinness. Next we learn that new track ‘Little Worlds’ is about springtime and the beginning of a new relationships. Again the tone of the fiddle paired with the acoustic guitar and elegant vocals ensure a truly effortless appeal of the performance.
As Frantz picks up an electric guitar Marlin jokes that it’s time for the Rock and Roll part of the set. Clearing up that there will in fact be no shredding, Frantz introduces another new track ‘Rounder’. The only thing that breaks the ambience during this thoughtful track is the dishwasher being turned on behind the bar, not ideal for the many audience members standing in close proximity. When the duo reach the end of their only politically themed song ‘Hey Aladdin’ a cheeky side glance is shared between one another as they launch into an upbeat bluegrass inspired number that has the audience clapping and stomping along in no time. Rounding things up with ‘The Train Song’, Frantz and Marlin are immediately met with an onslaught of applause that threatens to lift the roof of the intimate venue.
Saying their final thanks the pair inform the audience that the concluding song will be sad, slow and long. The crowd are delighted when the first notes of ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ are heard. The cover of this Bob Dylan song is nothing short of mesmerizing and truly enforces the fact that as far as perfect musical pairings go, Mandolin Orange must be near the top of that list. Pamela Anderson, GiggingNI.com