Watchhouse (Photo: Charlie Boss)

Roots/folk music fans should be looking west these days, at least as far as Westerly, RI. First up, keep an eye out for Watchhouse, coming to the United Theatre on March 2. (We’ll have previews of other shows scheduled there soon too!)

The band consists of husband-wife team Andrew Marlin (vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo) and Emily Frantz (vocals, violin, guitar). Although categorized as Americana/folk, like many bands, they are wary of labels. They’re best known for their well-crafted songs and sound harmonies, mainly penned by songwriter Marlin, along with a cover or two in concert.

I recently spoke by phone to Marlin who was at home in North Carolina enjoying a brief break from touring. “It’s nice to get up in the morning and make your own coffee,” he joked. Marlin was busy working on some new material, “we got some new tunes bouncing around that we’re really excited about.”

The band’s 2021 album, titled Watchhouse, (and re-recorded in 2022 as a duo), was released after their appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, confirming the band’s name change that had occurred earlier that year. Previously known as Mandolin Orange, the decision came after much reflection by the pair.

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“I feel like everyone always has opinions about what everybody else is doing,” said Marlin. “We allowed ourselves to have the largest voice in that, and tried to follow the muse. Our hearts were telling us it was time to change the name, so that’s what we listened to. We’re different people than when we started this band. We’re setting new intentions, taking control of this thing again.”

The album was their seventh together, dating back to 2010. The stunningly haunting songs of introspection and observation are signs of a band that has hit its stride. The album demonstrates how a band can reinvent itself, while not forgetting where it came from.

Marlin’s been busy lately. In addition to Watchhouse, he’s part of a new act, Mighty Poplar, a sort of all-star roots band that includes Chris Eldridge and Noam Pikelny of Punch Brothers, Leftover Salmon’s Greg Garrison and Alex Hargreaves from Billy Strings’ live band. The band just released their first song and video “Up On The Divide.”

Post-pandemic, Marlin has noticed subtle changes from the stage.  “Things seem to be a little less of the entertaining side of performing and be a little more introspective. It feels like the people who are willing to come out and see a show these days have a larger capacity for introspection.”

The band looks forward to recording and playing more live shows. “We’re gearing up for more touring, working on some new tunes, seeing how it takes shape, whether or not it becomes an album. That’s the main focus right now, trying to figure out some new material. We haven’t played duo in Rhode Island since around 2018, it’ll be fun to get back and frame the duo to the northeast.”

Folk/bluegrass guitarist Jordan Tice opens the show at 8PM. For tickets and more, visit the United Theatre website here.

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