A retrospective music review of Mandolin Orange, Tides of a Teardrop.
By now, we’ve all heard about live streaming, blogging, and tweeting almost anything, from the Oscars to the Super Bowl to the 2020 Presidential elections results and their protracted aftermath. But what about live stream reviewing an album of filled with meditative music while listening to it on Amazon Prime Unlimited at the same time? Sounds fun, right? Trust me: it is! Here’s how it works.
Step 1: Sign for a 3-month free trial on Amazon Music Unlimited.
Step 2: Search for an album you like and create a song title list on your blog post.
Step 3: Play the album on your laptop using some really good headphones.
Step 4: Type out the thoughts and reactions that emerge naturally from the music.
Step 5: Once the final track ends, pause, reflect, and write a summation.
Step 6: Publish your post. And wait for the likes and follows to just roll in!
My album of choice is Tides of a Teardrop, by Mandolin Orange, a bluegrass folk group based in North Carolina whose mix of moody lyrics and meditative music I realize enjoy. There’s a lot going on here, much which has to do with mother and son bonds and dealing with the inevitability of loss. Sounds depressing, right? Actually, it’s inspiring. That’s the magic of great music, and this album definitely fits that bill.
Ready? Let’s go!
1. Golden Embers
Guitar and violin are telling us a timeworn but touching tale. A fire has burned to its end. The hearse arrives to carry its ashes home. The flames are burning cold memories into a mind that glows golden in the warmth of a mother’s love. Lights flicker, illuminating words scratched into a self conscious and wounded mind. Will this song help it to heal? Percussion of strings. The mandolin weeps. But the music, it shines and glows like embers that will never die. They are eternal. Now, the rhythm picks up. There is an organ playing. Human shapes sway in time, and the violin steps in to carry the body, now bereft of its coffin and earthly form, to its true spiritual home.
2. The Wolves
The wolves are on the move, always on the move. They can never stop running when they are searching for something to eat, driven by hunger to fill a void that refuses to let them rest. They dance to electric guitar and strings. They swing on the dance floor as the stars shine at night. There are tears here, too, but they have dried on the cheeks of the son who has lost a mother. Still, he travels on. He knows of no other way. And the mandolin follows him, like a lost wolf cub in search of a mother’s soft but firm caress. Thank goodness for the brightness of the guitar! It lifts the spirits and turns sadness into a celebration of life. Howl at the moon tonight, and every night. The moon shines down on us all. And the mandolin shakes its strings in agreement. I think to myself: is this a song about the Statue of Liberty – or a Statue of Maternity?
3. Into the Sun
We have gone now from moon to sun. Day dawns like any other. Life will go on even after those we love are lost. Emily starts us out. Her voice speaks of innocence touched and tempered by experience and hard roads walked and loved ones wept for. Harmony! Finally, the two voices touch and become one. This is a bright, sunny tune. My mind twists and sways in time to the melody. I am following them on the wind as the sun rises in the East and we move onward, beyond the past, into the now. How the music moves us just so. The broken wing is mending. When will the mind follow suit?
4. Like You Used To
The mandolin is humming with joy. There is a spring in its step. Emily picks up the tune. I feel the rhythm of the road running through her voice, and now Andrew joins in. There is a bounce, as if riding a horse in grassy, flower-filled valley as snow melts from the peaks above. There is nostalgia here, and remembrance of past love, a mother’s love. But the son must move on. There is no pain in the present, only in the past. Balls and chains are meant for the imprisoned, not the free. And in the open saddle facing a bright Western sky, you are free! Josh Oliver’s guitar playing, as ever, fills the mood with joy, brightness, and effervescent energy. This is a truly Western song born in the mountains of Appalachia, not the Rockies.
5. Mother Deer
The mandolin tells us: this will be a slow, sad, mournful song. A mother’s song. Springtime that lasts forever. Freedom lies in eternity, not in time. Clover fields or Elysian? What sweet honey the bees of heaven will make! Mother will wait with warm milk and honey and a smile as bright as the sun and as wide as an ocean of waving grass. Is it light there? Yes. Always filled with light. In the land of milk, honey, and eternally blooming clover, there is no darkness. No pain. No suffering. Only the sound of a mother’s heart.
6. Lonely All the Time
We pick up pace again. There is real rhythm here, the first Country Swing tune so far. You can dance to this in your dirty jeans and worn leather boots. You may want a whiskey, too. Beautiful violin accompaniment. Soft, like a leather glove. Smooth, like aged bourbon. Whoever plays guitar like that deserves a medal of some sort. Find a new place to call home, where the coffee is freshly brewed and the earth greets you with energy and life. A place on the frontier to call home. Leave the loneliness back East behind.
7. When She’s Feeling Blue
We begin with only words. This is slow, like a dying heartbeat. You will drown in your beer if you’re not careful. Even the Irish would cry hearing a song like this, a sad cadence and deathly serious dirge saved from the pit of despair by the strings of a lone mandolin and a sympathetic band of musical friends. To be held in the arms of a loving woman is a gift from the gods. But those arms will weaken and crumble with age and illness. Find another set of arms to embrace and spread the love forever to those who are still in need. Is the mandolin crying, or smiling? What do its dulcet sounds reveal about a mended heart? Perhaps Josh’s guitar holds the answer. It seems like it always does. Did I just hear a baby cry?
8. Late September
Lightness again. Beautiful upright bass playing by Clint Mullican. We are back at the bar, last call. On liquor, or on love? What would mother say? Would she join you at the bar now that you are a grown man? What would she order to drink? If it were my mother, it would be white Zinfandel. If it were my wife’s mother, it would be plum brandy, except that she’d have made it herself from a family orchard in a Transylvanian village far from here. Closing time will never be the same again. Late September is when the snow begins to fall in the Northern Rockies. And the bars, they will stay open all night so that lost sons can reminisce about the ones they have lost. The best of them will not try to hide their pain, nor mask their tenderness in false displays of manhood. They will cry, they will wipe their tears, pay their bar bill, and then they will move on.
9. Suspended in Heaven
Mandolins and mothers and never ending journeys. But one day, the journey will end, and the strings will fall silent. This is a true mountain music spiritual. West Virginians the world over are tapping their toes to this melody and singing along as best as they can. Please do not let time stand still. Let it dissolve instead. Let it fade away in the light of a sun eternally rising. Stop the singing and simply listen to the sound of heaven’s voices. The stars still shine, and so, Andrew, should you. What is this I hear? Is it the sound of letting go? Or the sound of a true and eternal connection that has never been broken, even in the darkest hour? Reach out to touch the stars!! There you will find her, waiting as if no time or distance at all had ever passed between you. You cannot be separated from her when she is never really gone.
10. Time We Made Time
A summing up song. Ken Burns really could have used this when he was directing “The Civil War.” Lovely guitar by Josh again, and the dependable percussion of Joe Westerlund. I wonder: whose mothers have they lost? Where do their souls go to rest when the red recording lights cease to blink? Ramble in the brambles. Pluck the ripe berries. Wipe the juice from your mouth and wash your face and fingers in the clear, cool waters of a mountain stream. Let the electric guitar soothe you as another song comes to an end and another album is released into the Internet’s ethereal world of digital wonder. How wonderful, indeed! There are church bells sounding, or did I just make this up? Time for talking. There is always time for that. Even if we are only speaking with the souls of the dead.
What do we sing about when we sing about death? For Sting in “The Soul Cages,” it was passing a verdict on a father too troubled by his own demons to teach his son how to become a man. And so, Sting had to teach himself this art, and he taught himself so well that he even gave himself his own name, and not the one his father provided.
Andrew Marlin, by contrast, sings of a different sort of childhood, and of a different type of parent. Clearly, there is gentleness here, not judgment. No fire and brimstone fills his spiritual world, only flowers, stars, and sunshine of a healed and spotless mind that is teaching itself to live without pain or regret, like an addict learning to live without his daily fix of substance-induced suffering.
What is most striking here, however, is what Mandolin Orange as an ensemble does. The collective is always stronger than the solo performer. Sting, are you paying attention here? It is the band that plays. It is the band that sings. They emote. They hold their lead songwriter up when he wants to waver or return or regress to an earlier state of being. They let him talk. They let him play. But they keep him fixed in the present, in the now, and they don’t let his past dictate the pace of the songs or tempo of the album. Sting, once he left The Police behind, was never in a million years able to do that. He comes closest, I think, in more mature albums where he partners with talented musicians and fellow singers in The Last Ship, If On A Winter’s Night, and Songs from the Labyrinth, the latter being an exquisite collaboration with Bosnian lutenist Edin Karamazov.
Cheers, Mandolin Orange, for crafting such a precious gemstone of an album about a maternal bond that has bent but never been broken. Personal pain is deeply personal, but the songs you write and sing are for us all now. We all are lifted up and laid gently to rest as we listen to this album, like the tides of teardrop that rises and falls by the pull of a distant moon.
(Pause, while I prepare to submit my review and then press “play”on my stereo again).