Giving voice to Carolina blues
By Ben Opipari
Friday, March 22, 2013
Mount Moriah is the latest in a long line of talented acts not named Arcade Fire on indie label Merge Records. Any discussion of the North Carolina trio’s new album, “Miracle Temple,” though, must begin with Heather McEntire’s sublime voice.
Sometimes subdued and sometimes swelled with emotion, it’s reminiscent of Dolly Parton or Emmylou Harris. As a band, though, that’s where the country-and-western comparison ends, because Mount Moriah’s guitars are plugged in. The riff on “Eureka Springs,” for one, would suit an Allman Brothers record. Such slower numbers as “I Built a Town” and “Connecticut to Carolina” showcase the band’s bluesier side.
What also separates Mount Moriah from its alt-country brethren is its regionalism. “Miracle Temple” pays tribute to its North Carolina heritage, namechecking such places as Ocracoke, Black Mountain and Swannanoa. And the album is a tour through Americana, with its violins, ragtime pianos, pedal steel guitars, organs and gospel-influenced backing vocals.
The album not only is musical, but it’s also literary, with stories throughout. There’s religious imagery -- altars, almsgivers and glass chapels, and a common theme is the struggle between good and evil, light and dark. On “Bright Light,” McEntire sings of blinding light and darkness, and “Union Street Bridge” references “scars still on your foot” and “cars drowned down to the bottom.” With a voice like McEntire’s, such struggles have rarely sounded so good.