Album Review: Watchhouse, ‘Watchhouse’

Spacious, swirling harmonies and melodies float through Watchhouse’s dreamy debut album. The duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, of course, have been making music as Mandolin Orange, but over the last two years they decided that the music they were making didn’t quite fit with that name so they renamed themselves for a place inspired by Andrew’s childhood solace. The songs and tunes on the album celebrate the richness of community, the powerful pull of place, and the intimacy of family. The duo is joined on the album by Josh Oliver on guitars, Clint Mullican on bass, Joe Westerlund on drums and percussion, Josh Kauffman on guitar, organ, and piano, and Dave Nelson on trumpet and trombone.

Cascading guitar fingerpicking floats through the spare and gorgeous “Beautiful Flowers,” in which Frantz ponders the tortured relationship between humankind’s thirst for remaking the world industrially and the enduring, though fragile, beauty of nature; Nelson’s subtle horns create an ethereal soundscape over which guitars and vocals unfurl. The album opens with the shimmering guitar picking of folk jazz that recall It’s a Beautiful Day and Fairport Convention in “Wondrous Love.” Cannily the song opens slowly and then circles and spins to convey the singer’s spiraling emotions about the beauty and marvel of love. “Better Way” rides on a cavalcade of fingerpicking before opening into an echoing chamber bluegrass meditation on meanness, hopelessness, and the hope for a world without such meanness. The slowly swaying “Belly of the Beast” ponders the vagaries of human nature and the redemptive power of love as it rides along crystalline guitar and mandolin runs and eddying harmonies. Reminiscent of both early Neil Young and Jesse Colin Young, “Upside Down,” with Frantz’s ethereal vocals, meditates on the power of love to break and to heal, while the gently unfurling “Lonely Love Affair” reflects on the ways a newborn baby changes the ways we experience life and love. The album closes with a gently circling benediction, “Nightbird,” that evokes the ways that we live our lives within the shadows of love and loss.

Watchhouse offers a lush soundscape, a carefully tended garden of sound in which colorful tendrils of sound wrap around us softly, swaying us with gentle rhythms of solace, hope, and love.

Watchhouse is out on August 13 and available for pre-order HERE.

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