Mandolin Orange - Tides Of A Teardrop - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mandolin Orange - Tides Of A Teardrop

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2019-02-01
Mandolin Orange - Tides Of A Teardrop
Mandolin Orange - Tides Of A Teardrop

There’s probably a cache of bluegrass and country songs out there dealing with the loss of one’s father, but they certainly aren’t prevalent.  Maybe that’s because in those genres fathers are typically portrayed as rough-hewn, insensitive sorts that aren’t supposed to be mourned over.  Or maybe there aren’t that many songs on the subject because Guy Clark definitively wrapped up the topic in his darkly veined masterpiece, ‘The Randall Knife’, many years ago.  Whatever the reason, traditional American music is ripe with songs that reminisce about the fairer of lost parents. 

A half dozen albums into their career, the duo Mandolin Orange have put together one of their gentlest and finest moments in Tides Of A Teardrop, recalling the loss of lead songwriter Andrew Marlin’s mother.  Accompanied by longtime partner and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz along with members of their touring band, the album reflects on Marlin’s loss nearly half a lifetime ago, but more importantly his mother’s undying influence and continued presence. 

Given the passage of time, the album has a reverential yet understated feel of keeping a spirit alive.  A spirit to witness joys of weddings held and babies born though their physical being is painfully absent.  As details of her passing are sparse here, the emotional connection though specific to the writer is also highly relatable.  There are a few starkly remembered moments, however, including the shared memory of father and son on the opening ‘Golden Embers’ where a “Cadillac came and gave our girl a ride.”  The song makes an effective lead in to set a tone as a variety of styles and approaches unfold from there.  What is ever present though is Marlin’s unflappable baritone and Frantz’s sympathetic accompaniment.

One of the highlights here comes early on ‘Wolves’ where Marlin sings of “broken hearts beyond repair” on one of the liveliest tracks.  Though the album rarely breaks cadence from its quiet ramble, ‘Wolves’ sits alongside their most memorable of tracks from their earlier albums.  Frantz takes lead vocal duties on the next two tracks, with the smoldering smudge of a ballad ‘Into the Sun’ taking flight into a low orbit. 

If the title of ‘Mother Deer’ seems either a typo or a potential spot for things to get sappy, neither could be further from the truth.  It’s here on one of Tides Of A Teardrop’s quietest of quiet moments that Marlin is most likely to devastate the listener.  With Frantz providing a whisper of harmony and filagreed mandolin fills, Marlin evokes an image beyond simple metaphor when he sings “somewhere in a field of clover she waits for me.”  When he goes on to describe a place with “no scavengers, no machines”, it’s enough to make the idea of a later reunion pierce the most hardened of hearts.  On an album that is primarily reflective, ‘Mother Deer’ disarmingly looks forward at the album’s ultimate moment of repose.

The second half of the album holds further rewards.  Marlin pays tribute to classic country in the George Jones' ‘Color of the Blues’ soundalike ‘Lonely All The Time’.  One of the few songs that breaks somewhat from the theme, his fear of waking to cold coffee leftover from the day before joins the country canon of loneliest moments.  ‘Suspended In Heaven’ is the album’s most bluegrassiest, recalling The Stanley Brothers’ ‘Memories of Mother’ as Frantz pushes the duo’s harmonies to their highest and most lonesome singing of a “journey unended”.  Not to be outdone though, Marlin rakes the heartstrings one last time on ‘Late September’ where turns of phrase get particularly nuanced.  It may be the only song where “closing time” refers not just to last call, but to the end of visiting hours (back when hospitals had those) as Marlin reflects on the changing seasons outside his mother’s hospital room window.  By being one of the few other moments where the album gets specific, the image sticks hard.

It may seem crass given the subject matter to say that Marlin and Frantz are at the top of their game, but Tides Of A Teardrop is a delicately handled triumph.  Like the Piedmonts where this music was crafted and Marlin’s mother's hymns were sung, the mountains aren’t meant to take your breath away.  They are there as a remnant of what they once physically were and to provide solace that they will always be there.  Marlin’s songs, though new, also have a well-worn feel that envelops the listener in comfort and understanding asking nothing in return. 


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