Mount Moriahs Heather McEntire

Mount Moriah
Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro
Friday, April 12, 2013

It should be mentioned that this wasn’t the first time that Mount Moriah took over the Cat’s Cradle for a release party. Almost exactly two years prior, the local folk rock favorites played the legendary Carrboro club to celebrate the CD version of its self-titled debut. Admittedly, that free show wasn’t as full as Friday’s packed house, and at the time, the Cradle couldn’t hold as many people. But the point remains that Mount Moriah won over Triangle audiences long before signing to Durham-based indie heavyweight Merge Records and the March release of Miracle Temple, its beautiful sophomore effort. Thus, the band’s powerful and passionate performance wasn’t so much a victory lap as a thank you, a loving embrace of the community that helped nurture what has become one of the more exciting bands in the South.

The core trio of Mount Moriah — singer Heather McEntire, guitarist Jenks Miller and bassist Casey Toll — have been touring hard of late, aided by Megafaun drummer Joe Westerlund. Their sets as a quartet — such as their triumphant contribution to last weekend’s Phuzz Phest in Winston-Salem — have become both delicate and muscular, airy melodies solidifying into tenacious grooves that are then split wide by Miller’s solos, fiery displays that are as electrifying as they are efficient.

It would have been easy enough for Mount Moriah to trot out its road-ready configuration and leave it at that, but the band rewarded the hometown crowd with an expanded lineup more capable of recreating Miracle Temple’s lush aesthetic. James Wallace, who frequently drums with Mount Moriah and was integral in recording the new album, played keys and contributed backing vocals, reminding the crowd that no one harmonizes with McEntire quite so naturally as he can. There was also an additional female vocalist (Amelia Meath) and pedal steel (Allyn Love), filling out the sound and allowing the group to switch things up.

Mount Moriahs Jenks Miller

Miracle Temple‘s “Union Street Bridge” began in a way that was even more fragile and arresting than it is on record, McEntire’s wavering whispers counterpointed by Wallace’s rough croon as the pedal steel spun ethereal gauze. When the organ and bass took hold and transformed the song into more standard country rock, the bleary-eyed beauty was elevated to new heights.

The pedal steel was equally key on “Plane,” a standout from Mount Moriah’s debut. McEntire used her voice as a scalpel, deftly dissecting the last throes of a doomed relationship. But Miller’s understated solo grew into an overwhelming instrumental, his cutting fills juxtaposed by pillowy pedal steel until the song erupted into a rush of raw distortion. The noise dissipated, haunting McEntire’s final lines that depict her staring out from a window seat as she flies back home, defeated and alone.

On Friday, any sense of loneliness or resignation was confined to her words. The rapt audience hung on every word and riff, cheering adamantly and often. “My heart is real full,” McEntire told the crowd, returning to the stage after one of the quickest pauses you’ll see before an encore. The band then launched into a graceful version of “The Letting Go,” the title track from a 2010 EP, Mount Moriah’s first release in its current configuration.

Marked by patient piano and and barely there guitars, it found Mount Moriah at their most subdued, allowing the song’s profound emotions—and the dynamic connections between the ensemble—to shine without distraction. It was an intimate gift from a group that has never seemed less than grateful for its hometown support — just one more reason to root for its continued success.