On Wednesday night, North Carolina-based Mount Moriah took the stage of a sold out DC9 with “Swannanoa,” a compelling rocker with a deceptively quiet start that’s perhaps a perfect introduction to the band. Like many of the night’s selections, the framework of the song shows off the traditional country beauty of singer/guitarist Heather McEntire’s voice, and proves why
Mount Moriah’s music performed live is an inviting and engaging blend of rock and twang.
The twang derives from the guitar and McEntire’s voice -- lending a touch of sadness and regret to the lyrics, her voice aches of sorrow, heartbreak or longing on the slower songs, while delivering strength and resolve to faster-paced numbers.
Even through lyrics than can be dark and heavy, the band proved comfortable and approachable. When McEntire asked if anyone was from North Carolina, it was clear that quite a few tarheel ex-pats had made their way to the club. After that exchange the tone for the performance was set, turning it into a seeming casual affair in front of friends. When someone yelled, “Where’s your beard?” McEntire replied with “My beer?,” looking around her feet. After a bit more back-and-forth revealed the misunderstanding, she drew a lock of hair across her chin, thus joining her bandmates In their beardiness and laughing along with everyone else.
Most of the songs from the evening were drawn from Mount Moriah’s newest album, Miracle Temple, released in February on Merge. Selections alternated in tempo, from sad quiet songs of loss and heartbreak to more energetic rockers. Only McEntire and the drummer (rumored to be Megafaun drummer Joe Westerlund) were miked. Bassist Casey Toll and guitarist Jenks Miller played without adding vocals.
On the first notes of “Lament,” from Mount Moriah’s first self-titled album, a sigh of recognition went around the room. “If you know this song, I hope you’ll sing it with me,” McEntire asked. The refrain is “if this will be anything, let it be over,” turning the concept of the sing-along on its ear by joining the room in sadness and closure – there was a hint of release, but no joy. In a similar vein,
McEntire’s between-song banter provided small but significant details to the selected tracks. “White Sands,” was written on tour, as was “Telling the Hour.” McEntire described “Telling the Hour” as the result of a breakdown outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado – while the detail wasn’t necessary to get the sense of waiting, unable to move forward or back, that makes the song so crushingly powerful, the story provided a more vivid sense of place for the sensation and gave it a focus.
Over the course of the evening, Mount Moriah took the audience on a journey through tattered love lives, heartbreak, regret and resolutions, but managed to also leave a feeling of hope and possibility. McEntire’s voice, combined with the quality of the band and the songs themselves, all deliver a conviction that even if your past is heartbreaking, it’s still a passionate place to start moving forward from again. The sense of revival and renewal in the music brought the DC9 audience together for a night, and promises to follow this band as it grows, too.