There's a feeling-out period for any band as the members learn to play and write together. For Mount Moriah, this search for identity was amplified by the very different backgrounds of its central players, Jenks Miller (from psych-metal throbbers Horseback) and Heather McEntire (from noisy post-punks Bellefea). So while their eponymous 2011 album was a creditable effort, it offered only the vaguest hint how nicely it might all come together on their latest, Miracle Temple.
Their debut spun sweet country-folk that played on McEntire's honeyed vocals and Miller's gift for bite-size hooks, something of a holdover from their first collaboration, the pop-minded and relatively short-lived Un Deux Trois. Their personalities are increasingly evident on Miracle Temple, as McEntire invests more emotion in her vocals and Miller provides greater guitar detail in the form of subtle drones, textures and tension.
Overall, the songs are taut and watertight. It's Americana that sounds as informed by Yo La Tengo as Gillian Welch. The cover image of a barn engulfed in flames effectively illustrates the album's attitude.
"It represents rebirth and having to kind of burn something down to build it back up," McEntire says by phone from her North Carolina home. "On another level you have this very American image, this barn, right? And then the fire touches on some religious stuff, but mostly it's not being afraid to turn tradition on its head a bit."
While the band remains bedeviled in their attempts to find a drummer, they did settle on bassist Casey Toll in 2010, and the core trio's growing comfort together keyed the new album. Where the songs on Mount Moriah were brought in by McEntire and embellished by the band, Miracle Temple was a collaborative effort.
"We started trusting each other much more, and it felt more cohesive going into Miracle Temple songwriting sessions," McEntire says. "After touring for two years, we started to understand what role we each held in this band."
Even more importantly, McEntire began to feel comfortable and confident in her voice. The steady touring and the accumulated experience gave her more confidence in her vocals, which she says has engendered more soulful performances. You hear it in the aching country balladry of "I Built a Town" and the torch-tinged waltz "Connecticut to Carolina."
Part of it was just getting used to a less cluttered, more revealing soundstage. "There's just something vulnerable for me about taking away the walls of distortion," she says. "What you are left with can feel very vulnerable up there. ... I needed that experience."
McEntire also needed to clear the decks emotionally. She accomplished that when she came out on the debut, in a song addressed to her mother, "Reckoning." Dodging peals of pedal steel like heartbreaking lightning, McEntire pleads for understanding: "Forget about the fire / Look how my face smiles and shines / Can you learn to know your child?"
"I certainly needed to do it for myself, but it also ... encouraged me to explore more and also write in a more abstract way," McEntire says. "I don't have to write about myself or write confessionally. I needed to in that song, and what I really enjoyed about this last record is it opened me up to being more poetic, abstract and experimental lyrically this time."
After a decade making music with Bellefea and Mount Moriah, she says the cavalcade of accolades and approbation is a little strange, but plenty welcome.
"I worked really hard and I feel blessed," McEntire says. "I'm talking to you in this tiny little bedroom where I write a lot of songs, and sometimes it's hard to see out of that room and see how you're impacting other people in their lives. So when I see people at the shows, I'm really grateful they chose us."
jared corder complaining about people moving here is a bit ironic. pot meet kettle.
nobody said so so glos and desaparecidos for best 2013 show! surprising.
Totally agree with Caves as top album of the year----killer album!
Looks like a bunch of people jerking off all over their drinkin' buddies.
Mystery Twins should've gotten some love. They put their album out all by themselves and…