After the breakout critical success of Mandolin Orange’s Yep Roc debut, This Side of Jordan, you’d expect the relentless onslaught of touring that accompanied it to seep into the writing of the North Carolina duo’s follow-up. You’d expect the sound to reflect long days on the road, long nights onstage, unfamiliar cities, countless miles. You’d expect the classic “road record.”
But you’d be wrong.
“All of these songs are definitely a product of being on the road,” says multi- instrumentalist/singer Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange’s gorgeous new album, Such Jubilee, “but they’re not about the road.”
“They’re about home,” explains songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/singer Andrew Marlin. “Not because we were missing it, but because when you’re gone so much, you start realizing what you have and what’s waiting for you. You realize there’s this place to come back to at the end of the journey.”
The road has been good to Mandolin Orange since the 2013 release of This Side of Jordan. NPR called the album “effortless and beautiful,” naming it one of the year’s best folk/Americana releases, while Magnet dubbed it “magnificent,” and American Songwriter said it was “honest music, shot through with coed harmonies, sweeping fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar and the sort of unfakeable intimacy that bonds simpatico musicians like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.” The record earned them performances everywhere from the iconic Newport Folk Festival to Pickathon, as well as tours with Willie Watson, Gregory Alan Isakov, The Wood Brothers, and more.
For the Such Jubilee sessions, Marlin and Frantz set up facing each other with just a vocal and instrumental mic each in Asheville’s Echo Mountain studio. It proved to be the perfect setup to capture the undeniable chemistry of their live performances.
On “Settled Down,” Marlin looks at what it takes to find that nearly-telepathic level of comfort in a relationship, singing, “Moments, just fleeting times with little wings of gold / remind us of how real we find true love in every sign of getting older.” “Daylight” looks for peace in long- term companionship and trust, “That Wrecking Ball” meditates on the sometimes ravaging passage of time, and album closer “Of Which There Is No Like” is a delicate, wistful duet about coming home.
Not all of the songs are purely introspective, though. “Jump Mountain Blues” brings to life a haunting Native American legend from the rural Virginia town where Marlin spent weekends growing up, “Rounder” is written in the cowboy tradition and can be heard as a statement against capital punishment, and the ambitious “Blue Ruin” was penned in response to the horrific violence at Sandy Hook.
It’s a weighty moment on an album that doesn’t shy away from grappling with difficult topics: intimacy, death, distance, regret. Such Jubilee is a record about home, both the place and the idea. Some days it’s a safe, warm, loving refuge from the world outside. Other days it’s cold and empty and too quiet. Either way, it’s always waiting for you at the end of the road.