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Peggy Sue w/ Mandolin Orange & Ottoman Turks
January 29, 2014 @ 8:00 pm - 11:55 pm
Choir of Echoes is an album about singing. Losing your voice and finding it again. Voices keeping each other company and voices competing for space. The call and response of the cruelest and the kindest of words. Choruses, duets, whispers and shouts. Emphatic double-tracks give way to solitary melodies and looped monosyllables take over from bittersweet shoo-bi-doos. All the while long-time drummer Olly Joyce remains both steady and gloriously disruptive and the guitars of front-women Rosa Slade and Katy Young grow ever louder and more hypnotic. With the assistance of producer Jimmy Robertson and bassist Ben Rubinstein (singer/guitarist, The Mariners Children) Peggy Sue recorded Choir of Echoes in the Winter of 2012 at residential studio Rockfield in Monmouth, Wales.
As well as touring Europe with Jack White, Joan As Policewoman and Wild Flag, Peggy Sue spent much of the year following the release of their second album, Acrobats, arranging and recording a Rock and Roll covers album inspired by the soundtrack of Kenneth Anger’s cult movie Scorpio Rising. What began as a distraction became a sold out, hand made, self-released CD and a major influence on their third album proper. The process not only convinced the band that Robertson was their man (he produced the Peggy Sue play the songs of Scorpio Rising CD at his studio in Hackney) but re-confirmed a love and respect for the melancholy pop songs of 1950’s and 60’s. The band set about weaving their newly rediscovered doo-wop backing vocals through their grunge influenced post-folk.
A chorus of voices is built methodically, one at a time. Drums crunch. Guitars finish each other’s sentences. Creeping surf melodies take over for a moment. Vocals clip and distort and morph into a pop song. A two minute long ballad. Clocks and electric heaters interrupt a love story. A girl gets dumped on the longest day of the year. A country song swims and comes up for air. She plays a guitar like a bass. He plays the bass like a guitar. We are restless and we think too much. We sing songs to ghosts. We sing songs to ourselves in a room full of people.
On Mandolin Orange’s third release, This Side Of Jordan, there’s a Lightnin’ Hopkins lyric, “If fate’s an old woodpecker then I’m an old chunk of wood.” “I love the imagery that creates,” Andrew Marlin, the duo’s lyricist says, “You just picture death as this woodpecker that just lands on your shoulder and starts chipping away at you until there’s finally nothing left.” In 2011 around the release of Mandolin Orange’s acclaimed Haste Make/ Hard Hearted Stranger, Marlin had a near fatal accident. “It was scary,” Emily Frantz, the other half of the North Carolinian duo says, “But ultimately it brought us together during a time when we needed a nudge in that direction.”
This Side Of Jordan is the story of that healing process, with tales of love and loss, told honest and bare. The opener, “House of Stone,” quietly fades in with the hush of Frantz’s fiddle then Marlin’s guitar joins her, blooming. This moment of beauty is a gentle easing into the record that’s drenched deep in the traditional music of Southern Appalachia. Since meeting at a local jam in Chapel Hill in 2009, Marlin and Franz have intertwined gospel, folk, and bluegrass but never so seamlessly as now.
Recorded at the Fideltorium in Kernersville, North Carolina with bassist Jeff Crawford and a backing band, This Side Of Jordan still maintains Mandolin Orange’s modest aesthetic with pure and calming sounds. It’s a fitting juxtaposition to Marlin’s undeniable lyricism. Religious faith and fable thread throughout the record with Biblical references used to “convey a different point,” Frantz says. “In the south especially, we hear the Bible construed in any and every way to justify people’s comforts and discomforts,” Marlin further explains, “and it’s so frustrating to watch those stories be used to limit people’s happiness.” This sentiment inspired “Hey Adam,” where Marlin and Frantz urge in unison during the chorus, “Our Father loves you all ways.”
But this is not strictly a lyrical record. The duo’s understanding of classic country, rock, and blues naturally appears. “Waltz About Whisky” swings like a honky tonk thanks to Nathan Golub’s bending pedal steel as Marlin and Frantz plead, “Won’t someone dance with me to a waltz about whisky and turn my sad songs to lullabies?” When Marlin’s busy guitar weaves “Black Widow,” Josh Oliver’s sparse piano chords frame the track until its eerie conclusion. And “Morphine Girl” lazily trudges to James Wallace’s drum while Ryan Gustafson conjures on electric guitar.
The closer, “Until The Last Light Fades,” was written before Marlin met Frantz. With just Marlin’s mandolin and Frantz’s guitar, it’s the most fragile track on the record. Although it’s always been one of the duo’s favorites to play, it didn’t feel right on either of their previous releases. “It was so rewarding to have held out and have it come full circle,” Frantz explains in choosing the track to end the record. And as Frantz sings, “Born to die, born to die, darling you’ll live no longer than your years,” it comes across like an old adage, something faintly familiar.
Marlin and Frantz have rambled through the dark and came out together on This Side Of Jordan more confident than ever. They’ve made simply structured songs with easy chords and humble harmonies. These are the hymns that Mandolin Orange was meant to offer.
Ottoman Turks is a Dallas/Bryan/College Station-based four piece that was formed at the beginning of 2010 out of the ashes of a former band. Somebody had written a few songs, so we all got together and figured them out somewhat and then we played two shows without knowing what we were doing. They went well enough, so we figured we’d continue.
Over the years we have gained and lost a couple members, but the core of the group, and the sound we hope to cultivate, have remained essentially the same. A mixture of rough and rowdy blues, fast train songs and sad country ballads, with some skewed jazz and doo wop thrown in.
We have been repeatedly praised for our energetic live shows, which is where we have our most fun. The songs we write are largely built for the stage, and we prefer to showcase them that way. We appeal to a large array of audiences, and have played shows that reflect that – from biker parties by the Brazos to a grocery store opening in a Dallas suburb (that one was a weird one).