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MANDOLIN ORANGE, Celtic Connections, The Mackintosh Church, Glasgow, Wednesday, January 24, 2018.

It was by chance that Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz met at a blue grass festival nine years ago – but it is the fans of their warming and deftly created music who are definitely the lucky ones.

They came to celebrate the duo’s glorious harmonies, instrumental dexterity and eloquent bluegrass/country/folk-based songs that they coaxed out delicately, though to counter that viewpoint, Marlin’s mandolin appeared on fire at times as they zipped through their repertoire at this full-house, 25th Anniversary Celtic Connections’ gig.

While Frantz glided from fiddle to acoustic guitar, swaying in time to the music, Marlin stayed rooted to the spot, grounding all that was happening. When she strapped on an electric guitar for Rounder – from their 2015 release Such Jubilee – the effect was astonishing: Marlin’s solid vocals underpinned by tremors of guitar chords and Frantz’s unerring ability to cause heartbreak in the harmonies. At times, her voice could have been higher in the mix but this didn’t affect the fact that they still have something almost telepathic going on.

House of Stone from debut album, 2013’s This Side Of Jordan stood tall in the early part of the set, again Marlin dominating the vocals palpably and confidently. They have admitted that their songs are created by dint of “lots of eye contact and a lot of weird nods and winks” in the studio setting. None of this was in evidence from my balcony seat during this immensely engrossing 80-minute performance, honed by life on the road and a devotion to get things right.

When they dipped in to the wonders of Blindfaller from 2016, their intimacy seemed to deepen – Hey Stranger ends with the lyrics, “Don’t go living with trouble in mind / There’s no burden greater in life” which shows the attitude they have to music: to create memorable songs, quietly shed inhibition and doubt, even.

“Brave men fought with the battle cry / Tears filled the eyes of their loved ones and their brothers in arms” is the opening to the evocative, Wildfire, a song about a patriot in battle sung in muted tones, letting the audience savour the sentiment and their finely judged voices, separately and joined.

Frantz joked that the last time they played Glasgow it was in a venue with the lowest ceiling in the city (Broadcast, it was) but now they were in one with the highest. Maybe next time, Mandolin Orange will need somewhere even more spacious so more can savour what us churchgoers did here.

Image – Peter Cunningham

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