(Holidays for Quince Records)
North Carolinians Heather McEntire and Jenks Miller have both been in hard-edged bands from punk to metal. It's somewhat surprising that Mount Moriah, their band together, so effectively embodies rural and mountain sounds, but it does so to great effect.
Mount Moriah's self-titled debut captures the essence of the "fire and brimstone" Biblical band name and channels it into the modern topics of love, family, and acceptance. Each song on this album brings deep emotional power as the songs are clearly so personal to McEntire chronicling her own awakening and sense of identity.
Emotional themes are found here in song pairings. The subject of pain links the opening "Only Way Out", a fierce country song augmented with atmospheric pedal steel, with "Social Wedding Rings", a song of driving urgency fueled by regret. "Plane" and "Lament" come together next with one showing the realization of love found and the other love lost.
"Old Gowns" provides a gauzy, violin-led, and much needed respite after the emotional rollercoaster of the first four tracks. That beautiful track leads into another pair connected this time by their sound, the most old time sounding tunes here. The laid-back country groove of "Reckoning" serves as McEntire's song to her mother asking for acceptance and understanding which is followed by the subtle banjo strums of "Honey, We Don't Need That Much", a song of contentment to her lover:
Honey, we don't need that much
Flannel shirts and coffee in camping cups
We'll use our hands to work and love
Oh the blessings that will come
Although Mount Moriah is clearly McEntire's show, Jenks serves as strong support with his fine guitar playing. They play together with purpose. One can only guess that the emotional distance between McEntire and her family might have been what took Mount Moriah down this county musical road, but Jenks and the rest of the band have followed her there with purpose. Perhaps the comfort of these ageless sounds gives everyone something comfortable and familiar to wrap themselves in.
It usually makes sense to describe an album by its music, but the emotions behind Mount Moriah's debut stand as the unifying theme. Throughout each song McEntire finds herself alone - separated from her family's more traditional religious beliefs and still seeking love and acceptance from the soulmate she has yet to find.
The album's emotional core comes from this sense of being alone and McEntire's acceptance that this is where she needs to be at that moment. She must endure this pain and loneliness as part of her path to deeper happiness. The album closer "Hail, Lightning" bring this to a final head.
Like other relationship/breakup albums that are written and recorded when emotions are still raw, Mount Mariah's debut is deeply moving and affecting.
- Jim Markel
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