Mandolin Orange’s latest double EP is an attempt to show the full, multifaceted depth of its bluegrass sound. The album art shows Andrew Marlin’s and Emily Frantz’s faces on the head of a copper coin, and though the splitting of their music across two EPs is unnecessary, it must be said that the Chapel Hill duo has developed an intriguing blend of folk, bluegrass and pop. Haste Make / Hard Hearted Stranger does a good job of allowing that music to rise to the top, unfettered by overproduction or unneeded genre diversions.
“Lines on the Floor” opens with a 50’s doo-wop-inspired guitar and proves to be the most immediately accessible single in the making, but listening to the songs on both EPs in their intended order definitely allows Mandolin Orange’s sense of songcraft to build. The music shines throughout the double EP’s length, slowly introducing listeners to bluegrass across the spectrum, from the Nickel Creek-tinged pop of “Big Men in the Sky”, to “Killer”, which hints at an ability to hit the dark corners of Blitzen Trapper indie-folk via Frantz’s haunting Anais Mitchell-esque vocals, all without letting the light seep completely from the picture.
The music on both discs is impressive in its scope, and though the whole affair could have benefited from some trimming, allowing it to be a single album with a united musical vision, Haste Make / Hard Hearted Stranger is definitely another step forward from a band Rosanne Cash called an unmitigated pleasure. Fans of understated bluegrass with elements of alt-country and pop will be pleased with what develops across these two EPs. At worst Mandolin Orange is only guilty of being a bit overly ambitious, and in today’s musical world we could stand to see more acts willing to stretch in that direction.