Since releasing the double LP Haste Make/ Hard Hearted Stranger last November, Chapel Hill's Mandolin Orange has played an interesting range of shows. In Charlotte, the band opened for Rosanne Cash at her invitation. Tonight's Durham show serves as a homecoming from a tour hitting unlikely in-state spots such as Ocracoke Island, Beaufort and Bryson City, a small town in the Smokies not far from the little cabin where the band recorded half of the double album. It's a good match: intimate, folk-leaning Americana with small towns that don't see many touring bands. There's potential for cliché to this approach, sure, but guitarist and songwriter Andrew Marlin, being from a small North Carolina town himself, is unlikely to idealize rural life.
Marlin and vocalist/ fiddler Emily Frantz form the core of this band, which plays as a duo but also as the "Expandolin Orange" quartet. Plaintive vocals deliver plainspoken lyrics bolstered by poignant imagery: "As ships sail away I grow tired and gray/ This story has always been true." And though these songs are mournful, personal and honest, Mandolin Orange's humor and humility (with that punny band name, how self-serious can they be?) keep such heavy ballast from sinking the boat. Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are $12, or $5 for Duke students and employees, and free for ages 12 and under. Visit dukeperformances.org. —Corbie Hill