Album Review: Mandolin Orange – Tides of a Teardrop

Several years ago Mandolin Orange put an album out that was essentially two full LPs and it was stunning. I covered it practically upon first listen. Since that initial virtual meeting with this duo, I’ve been delighted to cover their music. I am thrilled to cover this new, grief and memory-driven album Tides of a Teardrop from the well-established North Carolina-based Americana duo, Mandolin Orange.

The album begins with a minor chord on “Golden Embers,” setting the mood not only for the opening track but for the entire album. The lead male vocal enters the track, taking the guitar and violin duo to a familiar “old time country” place. Longtime fans of Mandolin Orange will feel right at home with the sound. Those new to the band will immediately be drawn into a sound that is both timeless and brand new. The production is crisp and the message is endearing; it’s a song about helping each other get through life and remember those we love.

The following track “The Wolves” is perhaps a little more in the alt country vein than pure bluegrass, but it absolutely fits with what we’ve come to admire about Mandolin Orange. The down home lyricism steps aside for something that feels a bit more literary on this one. The wolves are, of course, a metaphor. It’s a story about survival and making the most of life despite the many challenges.

“Into the Sun” features a female lead vocal that absolutely stands out in the music world right now. It’s pure while maintaining a believable honesty to it. In a world of so much overproduced “hype” music, an organic song about family and hope is so necessary. There’s a sweet sense of purpose and meaning to the song that’s hard to summarize in commentary. When the harmony vocal enters, something transforms. It’s quintessential Mandolin Orange folk delightfulness and I am so thankful for it.

“Like You Used To” moves along nicely about a relationship that has evolved into something different. It’s about getting back to where you were when you first fell in love. I really appreciate that it’s got an easy going folk vibe to it but the thoughtful lyrics can cut through so purposefully. My wife once told me back in the early days that “love is a choice.” I think this song captures that truth well; even when you drift off the path a bit, “love me darlin like you used to.”

I won’t get into detail here because it’s not my story to tell, but a lot of this album is written about the death of a parent. The lyrics about a woman waiting in a field of clover to be together again on “Mother Deer” is potentially not about an animal at all. It’s a wonderful story with natural imagery that feels poetic, connecting the temporal to the eternal. “No scavengers or machines, she is free.” Beautiful.

“Lonely All the Time” is a hit whether we’re filling jukeboxes in 1965 or traditional country streaming services in 2019. I love the easy going style of the melody, the quality harmonies, and an overall timeless feeling. It’s seriously the kind of music that “they” just don’t make any more. If you regularly lament the type of music on so-called “country” radio stations these days, give this track a shot. It’s one of my favorites.

The final two tracks on the album are both moving but for different reasons. The lyric “mother is gone her journey’s unending” at the opening of “Suspended in Heaven” is one of the most beautiful gospel lyrics I’ve heard in years. The hauntingly beautiful harmony on the chorus will send chills up the spine of the most fervent atheist. This song encapsulates love, family, and the hope of eternal life. Even if you’re not into the lyrical content, the heart of the song is wonderfully palpable. You can feel the real grief and the love that exists within it.

The final track “Time We Made Time” focuses on temporality. It’s another relaxing folk song intended to get the listener thinking about how we spend our time. It reminds me of growing up in the country with my family, sitting out on the porch just to sit there. We weren’t accomplishing anything. It wasn’t about doing anything, just being together. Sometimes we’d eat watermelon or on good nights we’d have ice cream, but the point wasn’t the food. The point was to spend quality time together. This song is about that. The focus seems to be about a specific romantic relationship, but it holds true for all relationships. It’s time we make time for each other. We don’t get it back.

This album is an absolute gem. I’m so glad that Mandolin Orange have the incredible ability to create art that feels so accessible yet can be so deep. There’s a gentle strolling element on many of the tracks that just feels like it was meant to be listened to seriously, but with a smile on your face. I haven’t spun it on vinyl yet, but I’m hoping to do just that while sitting on my own front porch with my wife and kids. It’s the kind of music that might get you to slow dance once or twice, but I bet it’ll make you think of loved ones who have passed. If you really listen, it’s an album about the meaning of life.

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