It's hard not to invoke the names Gillian Welch and David Rawlings when discussing Mandolin Orange, the gospel, bluegrass, folk, and country-loving North Carolina duo responsible for the lovely, evocative, antebellum road trip of a record This Side of Jordan, but while multi-instrumentalist Andrew Marlin and violinist/guitarist Emily Frantz share Welch and Rawlings' gift for crafting songs that feel like dust bowl standards lost to time, they sound like they're from the 21st century instead magically conjured from an old woodcut. The duo's third release and first for Yep Roc, This Side of Jordan also invokes names like Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss, and the Civil Wars, offering up clever arrangements, familiar melodies, and lyrics that touch on contemporary themes as well as the holy folk trinity of life, love, and loss. Marlin and Frantz, life partners as well as musical companions, imbue standout close harmony cuts like "House of Stone," "There Was a Time," and the lovely closer "Until the Last Light Fades" with the kind of weathered empathy that can only come from two people who have spent a significant amount of time in freezing cars, cheap hotel rooms, and dusty, pre-dusk clubs waiting for the sound guy to arrive. Marlin's easy drawl is as inclusive as Frantz's is comforting, and when it's just the two of them, everything seems to fall into place, but some of the arrangements on the album, despite being perfectly executed, have a tendency to diminish the intimacy that the duo is so obviously capable of producing, especially on otherwise affecting cuts like "Waltz About Whiskey" and "Morphine Girl."
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger