The Lineup

Mandolin Orange

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Andrew Marlin—an autodidact guitarist from the small piedmont town of Warrenton, N.C., who’d dabbled in alt-metal and acoustic rock before exploring more traditional music—began jamming with the classically trained violinist Emily Frantz, who played with former Two Dollar Pistol Greg Hawks, after they met on Inauguration Night 2009, during a weekly jam at Carrboro’s Armadillo Grill. The young couple soon hit it off both musically and romantically, founding Mandolin Orange.

Developing as a duo in the fashion of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Frantz fit right into Marlin’s folk-based tunes, her sweet, unblemished songbird voice the perfect complement to his soft, genuine twang. Those harmonies are the highlight of gentle, graceful Americana that’s as timeless as it is charming, delicately adorned with acoustic and electric guitars, fiddle and, of course, mandolin. Beyond Marlin’s own down-home writing, the pair also mastered a batch of classic roots covers from the likes of Cole Porter, Flatt & Scruggs, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt.

The two now become four with the occasional backing of Drughorse producers and linchpins Jeff Crawford on bass and James Wallace on drums. They provide restrained accompaniment that accentuates the rhythms without overwhelming the songs. Even in full-band format, the arrangements are uncrowded, allowing Frantz’s fiddle to soar rather than dart.

Still a prolific songwriter with too many ideas for just a single project, Marlin also leads the recently formed local bluegrass supergroup Mason’s Apron, which features members of Hammer No More The Fingers, Lizzy Ross Band and Big Fat Gap. But the musical vagabond has found his ideal foil in Frantz, with whom he’s found perfect harmony. —Spencer Griffith