Hailing from North Carolina and fronted by Heather McEntire, Mount Moriah, named for the mountain where Abraham was told to sacrifice his son, began life as a country tinted indie outfit, but have gradually veered more towards a fuller alt county act, McEntire often calling to mind Dolly Parton without the trill while Jenks Miller keeps his guitar work anchored in a Southern rock tradition.
This, their follow up to 2013’s Miracle Temple, takes further steps down that road, a road trip that opens with the steady paced, rhythm swaying, horns -washed Calvander, titled for the rural North Carolina town and referencing the Carteret County line, Newport River and Bogue Bank tide as McEntire talks of following the tracks out past the fishery in search of a spiritual awakening, some kind of sign, leaving those Jacksonville boys to find “sweet release” somewhere else.
Turning the map to San Francisco, Precita lifts the tempo slightly for a song about finding unexpected epiphanies in unlooked for encounters as, Angel Olson echoing her words on harmonies, she sings “The highest soul has the whitest spark.” On the narcotic sway of Baby Blue, out in Auxvasse, Missouri, backed by Mirah Zeitlyn and featuring a soulful solo from Miller, she uses asters and Goldenrod flower as a floral image of how “nothing lasts forever, even if you want it to.”
The pace picks up on the chiming Chiron (God in the Brier), as, back in North Carolina, she finds God in a bush underneath a water tower near Fish Dam Road while Miller weaves a eastern coloured chords into the early REM-like melody. Chiron, the ferryman of the dead, is there again on the throatier guitar driven, southern country blues rock Cardinal Cross, another song to reference a flower (cohosh, a plant used as a herbal medicine by Native Americans) while the title itself may well refer to a potent cosmic portent to do with change.
We’re still in North Carolina, Carrboro, not far from Calvander to be precise (with references to Roebling St and Jones Ferry) for Fox In The City, a slow march blues, Terry Lonergan’s steady drums laced with Daniel Hart’s violin, about ghosts of memories and world weariness that contains the evocative image of ‘a paraffin fist’.
On the magnificent Higher Mind, McEntire’s joined by Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls on a pulsing melody that strikingly recalls Total Control by The Motels while the lyrics take you through Macon, Georgia, Roanoke, Crooked River and from Grizzly Peak down to Baker Beach and Oceanana pier as she sings how she met her maker in the desert and he told her “find the fire, see where the smoke begins, follow flames and let them burn your hands.”
A slow, resonant guitar backed song of farewell that name-checks Neil Young’s Comes A Time, Davis Square (in Boston) marks the start of the end of the journey, leading into the pedal steel streaked slow waltz listen to your heart (“Gotta lot of people telling me how to dance”) title track and finally closing under a blood red moon with the equally plangent, near seven-minute Little Bear, complete with three minute instrumental playout, a song seeking resolution that seems to call on childhood innocence for answers to whatever questions she’s been chasing. You don’t need to know the steps to these dances of the soul, just let the music guide your heart.
Review by: Mike Davies
How to Dance is out now via Merge Records
Order it via Amazon