Mount Moriah is a fitting tribute to many Southern musical traditions, but it also pulls them into the present in fascinating and vital ways.
Heather McEntire is mostly known for fronting rock outfit Bellafea -- go listen to their excellent Cavalcade if you haven't yet -- but with her Mount Moriah project, we get just the bella half of her sound. With Jenks Miller, with whom she originally formed the bright pop act Un Deux Trois, she explores Southern rock, folk and gospel on Mount Moriah with impressive results. Her voice is clear and beautiful here -- she can growl in that rock band -- and her and Miller and a slew of other players put together some swampy and bracing cuts. While it channels deep roots, it never slips into mimicry and instead filters them through a modern pop aesthetic. "Only Way Out" twangs with slide guitar and dusty riffs, but McEntire's guitar jangles like a Galaxie 500 song. "Lament" tightens up the mix of hazy tones and twang, and the group vocal harmonies blow the song up into an expansive pop gem. The group can get quiet too, using a mournful mix of spare keys and strings on "Old Gowns" and an echoing negative space that stretches out all around the heartbreaking closer, "Hail, Lightning". For two players known for their noise -- Miller is in the psych-metal band Horseback -- it is Mount Moriah's restraint that is the duo's best asset. This isn't a record that will immediately grab your attention, and it may even be overly dreamy in spots. Those moments are fleeting, though, and these songs are too well-written and too heartfelt in their execution to be ignored. Mount Moriah is a fitting tribute to many musical traditions from the South, but it also pulls them into the present in fascinating and vital ways.