Finally, a country band for non-country fans
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 00:02
Mount Moriah, a relatively fresh three-piece alt-country rock band out of Chapel Hill, N. C., released “Miracle Temple” on Monday on indie label Merge Records (of Neutral Milk Hotel, Superchunk and Arcade Fire fame).
The group’s first album since their self-titled 2012 debut, the sophomore release builds on their country instrumentation and folksy energy in nearly every way. The guitars are louder, the arrangements are more complex and the themes are darker. The mood is set by the album art, which depicts a house – perhaps the “Miracle Temple” – ablaze in the midst of a gray, dead-looking landscape; the ever-present theme of the record is a remorseful and annoyingly vague recollection of summers past.
Kickoff track and pseudo-single “Younger Days” introduces the listener to a clear mix of equal parts Springsteen, soul, and southern Baptist, but the band is decidedly self-described “secular gospel.” Lead singer Heather McEntire has a voice similar to Ann Wilson of Heart, but nothing in “Miracle Temple” is quite as direct as what you’d find in Heart’s “Barracuda.” Frankly, McEntire doesn’t have to be, because her voice is quite beautiful.
The first few tracks on the album are severely, misleadingly weak – “Eureka Springs” and “I Built a Town” are hardly worth a listen. Luckily, Mount Moriah holds true to rock-and-roll cataloguing with tracks like “Connecticut to Carolina.” It’s relaxed rock, mind you, but rock nonetheless. Lead guitarist Jenks Miller makes few attempts to stand out, lest he distract from McEntire’s lyricism.
In best-for-last fashion, “Telling the Hour” gives McEntire a chance to showcase her enchanting voice, sounding almost like a southern Regina Spektor before the song picks up with the lyrics,“Gimme whiskey, gimme wine … gimme skies so dark, I will have no choice but to remember…” This closing track is incredibly earnest, standing out from the pack as the best from the release.
“Miracle Temple” asks more questions than it gives answers. The album is largely meditative and focused on the past. The ghosts of McEntire’s life, both family and friends, haunt the lyrics intermittently throughout the album. In “Rosemary,” she choruses, “nothing was easier than Rosemary / back when your knees would buckle in for me … we saw only what we chose to see.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Rosemary” is one of the only tracks with a discernable chorus.
Will non-country fans like “Miracle Temple?” It’s likely, because the twang is assuredly subdued. Will folk fans like this? Definitely. At its best, “Miracle Temple” is an acceptable rainy day playlist, and it’s not difficult to imagine one of the tracks thrown into film or romantic comedy montage. If listeners are willing to look past predictable chord progressions and several uninspired songs, Mount Moriah’s “Miracle Temple” is home to some reward.