Mandolinist and songwriter Andrew Marlin, of Mandolin Orange, has certainly taken advantage of the break from touring brought on by the pandemic. This month he’s released two instrumental albums; on February 5, Witching Hour, came out, and Fable & Fire on February 19. While each album explores different musical themes, the pair of albums function in many ways are emotional bookends that hold between them the depths and breadth of human experience, ranging from the joys of family and the gratitude for the present to a somber, yet bright, exploration of death. Marlin is joined on each album by a winning group of long-time collaborators: Josh Oliver on guitar, piano, banjo; Jordan Tice on guitar, bouzouki; Christian Sedelmyer on fiddle; Clint Mullican on bass; Nat Smith on cello. Witching Hour was recorded at The Butcher Shoppe studio in Nashville—founded by John Prine—where Marlin recorded his first instrumental album, while Fable & Fire was recorded at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, North Carolina.
Witching Hour opens appropriately enough with “Fireflies and Fairydust,” the natural and supernatural forces that twine around each other during the twilight hours, those magical times when fireflies flitter and glitter as if covered in fairy dust. Marlin’s piercing mandolin notes set the stage for Sedelmyer’s sprinkling notes from his fiddle in an airy, drowsy tune. “Hawk Is a Mule” scampers along in square dance time, replete with fiddler’s call, while Marlin’s bright, sing-song mandolin notes on “Woodland Star” evoke the rhyming of a human voice as it sings to a child. Sedelmyer’s bluesy fiddle captures the languidness of summer on “Too Hot to Move,” while the title track conjures the light and the darkness that come alive in the hours between 5pm and midnight, the “witching hour.”
While the tunes on Witching Hour
generally focus on family life and offer innovative takes on American bluegrass and roots music, the tunes on Fable & Fire provide Marlin and his collaborators’ innovative takes on Celtic music and moving reflections on our relationship to the world around us. “Erie Fiddler” scampers along happily with fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar chasing one another around spiritedly, while the meditative “Jaybird” circles slowly, the instruments layering sound upon sound as a sonic thematic bed on which the crystalline solos can lie. Sedelmyer’s buoyant fiddle kicks off the medley “Farewell to Holly Bluff/The Watch House,” unspooling in a luxurious, somber fashion on “Farewell” and rushing off to provide the circling rhythm for the reel of “The Watch House.” Smith’s spare cello notes open the album’s title track, creating a haunting sonic landscape into which Marlin, Sedelmyer, Tice, and others slowly enter, building an evocative lament—almost a dirge, but the song has a hopefulness in the midst of the solemnity—that captures our own attempts to balance reality—fire—and illusion—fable. The album closes with a sprightly dance tune, “Old Pine Box,” which celebrates the final stages of life’s journey.
Together, Witching Hour and Fable & Fire showcase Marlin’s ingenious ways of dwelling in a tune and turning it inside out, grounding it in tradition but carrying out to new heights through brilliant innovation.
From ‘Witching Hour’
From ‘Fable & Fire’
Witching Hour and Fable & Fire are available HERE.