The music critic cliché about double albums is that they’d often be better if they were boiled down to single album size, but that’s not the case with the second release from North Carolina duo Mandolin Orange. Besides the consistent quality of the material, the thing that keeps this two-CD set from falling into the aforementioned category is the fact that it’s really two separate albums packaged together, rather than one double-length slab of songs. Haste Make and Hard Hearted Stranger were each recorded at different studios during different periods of time; each has different guest players and its own distinct sonic identity. Naturally, both discs find singers/multi-instrumentalists Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz delivering graceful, organic-sounding vocal harmonies and supporting their songs with deft acoustic instrumentation, including guitars, mandolin (of course), fiddle, and viola, all employed in a low-key folk setting. But Haste Make is a rather more full-bodied set, achieving a bit of a folk-rock sound, while Hard Hearted Stranger is a much more sparsely arranged, fragile-sounding collection of tunes. Still, it’s not as though the first disc gets into gritty, Crazy Horse-style territory or anything — it’s still a relatively laid-back affair, but the minimalist settings of Hard Hearted Stranger are such that even the subtlest of musical additions seems striking in contrast. In the end, though, the true measure of this outing’s success is the fact that each disc works equally well on its own terms.
This is a Chapel Hill, NC duo, made up of songwriter Andrew Martin and instrumentalist Emily Frantz, which has already found a solid fan in Ms. Rosanne Cash. This release consists of two LPs in one, and it’s chock full of alt-country bric-a-brac that rumbles up from the ground right underneath our feet. The first album, recorded during the winter of 2010/11, seems like it has a decidedly slicker country- rock sound, maybe it’s the mastering, but that’s not really a knock, just an observation. Standouts include: “Haste Make” and “Runnin’ Red.” The second album, recorded during summer 2011, is even grittier and earthier, as heard in the 70s style dirt-folk of “Big Men in the Sky,” for example. “Never Die” and “Birds of A Feather” go for more grass, as in the new bluegrass, and they show off some nifty playing. “Clover” also utilizes some excellent vocal work by Andrew Martin. MO can undoubtedly hang with the big boys.