How To Dance
26 February 2016; Merge Records
Mount Moriah are a strong alt-country band, whose third album How to Dance consists of the jubilant South American twang of Heather McEntire’s effortless ranging vocals, a definite and simple percussion section along with subtle horns that blend with graceful guitar chords. The opener, Calvander is decisively country driven, so listeners knows where they stand: “hitching a ride to the county line”. The second track, Precita, follows suit, adding a back and forth narrative between McEntire and a second vocal line provided by Angel Olsen in the verse, and soft harmonies interjecting some accidentals in the chorus, adding to the overall country feel. A great soundtrack to a North Carolina road-trip, this album feels homely and familiar while simultaneously bringing the ambiance of a relaxed adventure.
The “bright eyes and sunrise” of Baby Blue poses questions with traces of an organ and religious undertones discussing the “hand of God” – which is questioned and then found scattered all over the album with lyrics of specific places, streets, villages and rivers. And, with Mount Moriah being an important location in the Book of Genesis as where Isaac was sacrificed, the band’s religious beliefs are clear. However the slower pace of the song reflects a more pessimistic outlook, as McEntire tells us “nothing lasts forever”. The tone and style picks up again though for Chiron (God on the Brier) including a long guitar riff and patterns layered on some minor chords that add a little curiosity about what this band might be capable of. So far this song stands out more than the previous tracks that can sometimes sound a little samey.
Cardinal Cross gets Mount Moriah to bring out their rockier, fiery side whilst still keeping their classic country consciousness
The biggest track on the album, Cardinal Cross, gets Mount Moriah to bring out their rockier, fiery side whilst still keeping their classic country consciousness. With Chiron and Cardinal Cross in succession the album builds a more varied exhibition of its abilities to branch out from this comfortable stance, but never really excites interest as far as Social Wedding Rings on Mount Moriah’s self-titled debut album. Fox in the City, Higher Mind and Davis Square bring the form back to andante paced drums and repeated chords: their preference for the traditional Americana sound is clear – a world away from McEntire’s previous snarling punk band Bellafea, and guitarist Jenks Miller’s side metal project Horseback. The album sounds like it should draw to a close on Davis Square as McEntire sings “goodbye, I know it’s time” yet this is followed by the title track and another, Little Bear, which, fittingly, both sound like the last dance at a barnyard rodeo party. You can almost smell the hay and cowboy-hatted line dancing.
Although the album is technically masterful with its instrumentation and embraces the smooth vocals of a southern belle, it perhaps takes too long to get going and too long to finish, with similar tracks in succession at the beginning and end, and some healthier, more vibrant tracks slotted in the middle. If you’re a big fan of country music then this might be for you, but unfortunately it did not convert me.