The album Mount Moriah demands to be heard on vinyl. Released last year on CD and an online download, it’s a debut defined by spaciousness and warmth, merging various elements of rock, country and folk into songs at once overwhelming and intimate. Jenks Millera master of texture and momentum with the metal-leaning Horsebackadds guitar lines that are powerful in their restraint. Heather McEntire matches him with a sharp, seductive twang and moving words that explore her struggle to find love and acceptance as a bisexual in the South. Bolstered by arresting harmonies from drummer James Wallace and bass lines that recall the seductive throb of Fleetwood Mac’s John McVie, Mount Moriah possesses the kind of sonic depth that presses for vinyl fidelity.
The album’s recent LP reissue, then, feels like a foregone conclusion. The newsworthy element of the release is that it comes courtesy of Merge Records, the Durham imprint that ranks among the most successful independent labels in the world. Merge will also handle the 2013 release of the band’s sophomore effort.
Merge is an apt home for Mount Moriah, a thoughtful outfit that also boasts an unquestionably broad appeal. While McEntire’s lyrics are sometimes challenging, the music is always lush and inviting. Merge has a history with similar sounds, from the stalwart thinkpieces of Lambchop to the elliptical alt-country of Richard Buckner. Mount Moriah is a fitting addition to this pole of Merge’s roster, boasting songs that can be appreciated casually but offer greater rewards when explored at length.
“Social Wedding Rings” exemplifies this power. Propelled by a chugging bass line that clashes wonderfully with Miller’s fiery, strung-out guitar fills, the song depends upon infinite tension. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a heady tale of sexual confusion and passions that burned too brightly to endure. “In a motel room in Colorado Springs, we learned what impatience brings to women who fool around,” McEntire coos, her specificity making the song both intimate and provocative, subtly challenging stereotypes that are as persistent in music as they are in life.
The vinyl reissue comes with a download of seven live cuts Mount Moriah tracked for various radio stations and blogs. The recordings are rough, lacking the LP’s layered brilliance, and two numbers are included twice. But the bonus material proves that these songs are powerful in any context. The version of “Reckoning” comes close to besting its LP counterpart. The song is a moving twist on country tradition, evoking religious imagery in a plea to McEntire’s intolerant mother. “I found a lover, she’s patient and kind,” she sings, hoping for understanding. In the live version, she’s met with straightforward mandolin and biting harmonies courtesy of Midtown Dickens’ Will Hackney. The added elements give the song an old-time feel, lending grit to the lilting country tune and offering a well-placed allusion to McEntire’s mountain roots.
For fans who have already been taken in by Mount Moriah’s charms, this reissue offers an opportunity to reconnect with the group’s songs and experience them in the optimal context. For the unconverted, the limited-edition release is a last chance to get in on the ground floor.
Label: Merge Records
This article appeared in print with the headline “Big four.”