This Side of Jordan, by Mandolin Orange

Another day, another talented Americana songwriter immersed in the language of a faith he doesn’t profess. Andrew Marlin, half of the North Carolina duo Mandolin Orange, is a church musician’s son who no longer identifies with the church. But as he’s explained it, Christianity remains his vocabulary for speaking of spiritual things.

Right from the title, the duo’s third record presents its lyrical vision as an alternative to the otherworldly religiosity of old-time gospel. About a minute into the first song, “House of Stone,” Emily Frantz’s voice joins Marlin’s for the first time: “Now some may sing the sounds of ‘hallelujah’ / And dream about a mansion of gold / But . . . my dreams all are resting on a house of stone.” Mine too, and I dream those dreams in Christian community. Marlin’s life-affirming lyrics make me want to invite him to church, or at least send him a Wendell Berry book or something.

But first I just want to listen to him and Frantz play and sing together. Mostly he plays guitar and she plays fiddle; sometimes he picks up a mandolin and she covers guitar. Both play with the understated competence of legit pickers who aren’t there to show off. And they get around on not just different instruments but different styles—country gospel, old time, modern folk, gentle nods toward bluegrass and honky-tonk.