Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Mandolin Orange - Quiet Little Room

By Jon Stone | @jwstone October 26, 2010

grass|roots ep. 6

I spend a lot of time listening to music just on the left side of what might be called bluegrass. In fact, as I've thought about this series and music that I might want to include, I've often hit a bit of a brick wall because, while I enjoy what might be considered "traditional" bluegrass, very rarely am I blown over by it. Instead, my tastes have an affinity with the progressives (as I've explored in the past), but perhaps are even more grounded in the singer-songwriter crowd where focus moves from the instrumentation to the melody and ethos of songs. Genre-wise, music journalists have a tough time categorizing both of these kinds of groups. They're all a little bit grassy, a little bit country-folk, a little bit something else.

Last year I told whoever would listen how much I loved Sarah Jarosz's debut, Song Up In Her Head. I'll spend what's left of this year (and likely long into next) proclaiming my penchant for Mandolin Orange and their debut, full-length Quiet Little Room. It is a gem of a record mixing folky male/female duets and (mostly) acoustic guitar,  mandolin, and fiddle instrumentation. The music doesn't shy away from using a drumkit when its appropriate, but leans mostly on hauntingly sweet slow tunes with Gillian Welsh/Dave Rawlins-style close harmonies and stringed instrument solos. Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz can be added to the growing list of great acts who employ this formula: Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore come to mind immediately, but, for some reason (and I suspect it's a good one), Nathaniel Rateliff's record this year, which is full of amazing songwriting with really lovely vocal harmonies, hangs nicely in this crowd too.

In any case, I highly recommend your checking out Mandolin Orange's record and seeing them if and when they swing through your town. I hope they make some midwestern touring plans soon!

Check out "Train Song," a non-album track, below, but also click here and listen through to a bunch of great YouTube performances (many off the record) from the band. (And thanks to Anson for the heads up on this and so many other great bands!)

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