Weighty and Serious: Mandolin Orange – Such Jubilee
In my previous Vinyl Roots column, I talked about the reasons I came to vinyl in the first place. I don’t necessarily have an audiophile perspective — I listen to my vinyl records on a crappy Numark turntable with mediocre bookshelf reference speakers. It’s more about the fact that I’m looking to fall back in love with music collecting.
While wrapping up that initial column, lo-and-behold, the new vinyl record, Such Jubilee, from North Carolina duo Mandolin Orange dropped into my lap and nailed every part of this reverence-for-the-physical-object that got me going on vinyl collecting in the first place. I feel like uploading an unboxing video just because their packaging was so nice. The 180-gram vinyl is thick, weighty, serious in my hands. There’s a lovely pull-out poster that’s quite colorful and has all the lyrics (I actually find myself going back to the lyrics on this one). And Yep Roc Records was kind enough to include not only the download code for digital listening, but an actual CD as well. I feel like I’m in the first-class section of record collecting, with a kind stewardess pouring me a free drink.
Of course, first and foremost in all of this is the music, and I have to say that I’ve been absolutely addicted to this new Mandolin Orange recording. Duos seem to be quite the thing these days in Americana, but not every duo can keep my attention or actually make me feel something, the way this one can. Much of this is owed to songwriter Andrew Marlin, who crafts perfect gems of songs with seemingly little effort, and sings with a kind of Southern-slacker detachedness that’s both charming and welcoming. His musical partner Emily Frantz is on point here for glorious harmony singing, some great lead vocals as well, and beautifully tasteful fiddling. Like most great American roots duos, these two have that kind of near-psychic connection in harmony singing that enables them to move exactly in sync. It all seems so easy, but I’ve seen both Marlin and Frantz working their asses off to get one song right at a live Pickathon taping. The two of them were far beyond the point of exhaustion during that, and overheated from the hot weather, and crammed into a tiny, unventilated shed to record the song. But they worked and worked, and pushed to get it just right, beyond the point where most of us would have even noticed the difference. They take their craft very seriously and it shows at every level.
The lyrics on this record have such beautiful depth that I — a person chronically incapable of tracking the words to even the shortest song — find myself snapping awake to some of the more unexpectedly powerful lines. “She settled down with a ramblin’ man and found the gentle side of me,” captures the haiku-like nature of great country writing (not 5-7-5 haiku, but the Japanese concept that haiku should subvert poetic expectations). Later in that song, “Settled Down,” Marlin nails another few great lines:
Moments, just fleeting times
with little wings of gold
remind us how real we find
true love in every sign of getting older.
I hadn’t thought about the twingy nostalgia of aging as an emotion that points back to true love, but there’s a lot of truth in this line. It certainly feels true to me, as I move inexorably toward middle age.
“Rounder” is one of the best new-old-time songs I’ve heard. I especially love this couplet that carries the ironic weight of so much recent gun tragedy:
Some folks are guided by the weight of their tongues
but we all fall silent at the end of a gun.
Maybe the 180-gram vinyl thing is just a gimmick, and the extra weight doesn’t make the album sound any better. That’s certainly the opinion online, in correlation to the ever-expanding number of 180-gram releases. But I don’t care. This album feels heavy, weighty, full of powerful songs. And it is. This isn’t something to take lightly, but an album to unpack with care, and songs to mull over and appreciate. This is real music, folks.