H.C. McEntire vocalizes in a slow, syrupy Southern drawl on her latest release, Every Acre. She doesn’t sing as much as drip her arty lyrics into the air like paint on a canvas. She slows down time with long, languid vocal lines abetted by the production’s heavy use of instrumental reverb and fuzziness. McEntire, Missy Thangs, and Luke Norton produced the record. At times, one hears the sounds of nature mixed in with the music: frogs croaking, geese honking, and such from field recordings she made. The nine tracks are more like tone poems than conventional songs.
McEntire plays electric guitar as well as provides lead vocals on Every Acre. The rest of the band includes Norton on electric and acoustic guitar, piano, Wurlitzer, and pump organ; Casey Toll on upright and electric bass; Daniel Faust: on drums and percussion; and Missy Thangs on keys, Farisa, Hammond, and synthesizer. McEntire is also a published poet. Her concern and reverence for literary art comes across in her lyrical topics, as well as evidenced by her creativity. Consider a track such as “New View” that begins conventionally enough as a love song: “Bend me and break me / Split me right in two / Mend me and make me / I’ll take more of you / In the high hunter’s moon.”
The meanings behind terms such as “bend”, “break”, “mend”, and “make”, as well as their rhyme scheme, are easy to understand. The romantic and erotic implications are clear. But one moves quickly from a description of physical and spiritual love to the “high hunter’s moon”. McEntire has changed the conversation from one of conversational to a higher plane. That stanza is followed by: “Read me Day, Ada, Laux / Berry, and Olds / Who knew it’d be so good? / Baby, did you?”
The subject has changed from the love of another person to a meeting of the minds. The couple shares reading poetry together as a stimulus. One wonders who McEntire’s audience is at this point. Her references would be unclear to many. Presumably, Ada is Ada Limón, currently the Poet Laureate of the United States. My guess is less than one percent of the public is familiar with her name. (Dorianne) Laux and (Sharon) Olds might be known to students of contemporary verse, but few others. And does she mean Wendell Berry, and who is Day (social activist Dorothy?). These names don’t quite fit with the others on the list except perhaps for those intellectual, literary historians of the 20th century.
There are other allusions to poets and poetry on Every Acre, but what stands out more is McEntire’s inventive and original use of poetic imagery. This can range from concrete description (“Corn meal rising high in cast iron pans”) to the imaginative “Like shadows in the attic”) in the same song. These examples come from “Shadows”, in which she is vocally assisted by fellow Southern songwriter S.G. Goodman. The Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray is also featured on one track (“Turpentine”).
Several songs, such as “Rows of Clover” and “Wild for the King”, stretch out from seemingly simple melodic lines into atmospherics. Their lyrics still matter but are not always clear. Their sound becomes more important than what is said. There is also a strong undercurrent of gospel music on tunes such as “Dovetail” and “Gospel of a Certain Kind”. McEntire seeks salvation, but these songs suggest this can be found in how one approaches the world rather than in some supernatural entity.
Every Acre showcases McEntire’s poetic worldview as she seeks to find meaning. She looks to love with another person, the beauty of nature, the larger cultural forces and traditions, and even a higher deity for answers. She finds/doesn’t find the truth, whatever that may be, but discovers value in the searches themselves.