The good news for North Carolina’s Mount Moriah is that the hard part is behind them. A recent signing with fellow Tar Heels at Merge Records means that not only will their upcoming sophomore release get legitimate national publicity, but the band’s 2011 self-titled debut also gets a re-release, pressed to vinyl for the first time and enhanced by a number of radio session recordings. For a band hardly known outside of their core audience (or anyone who saw them impress as opener for Craig Finn last winter), the benefits of this arrangement are tangible: Mount Moriah becomes a record saved from slipping through the cracks.
Mount Moriah is neither an immediate album nor a polished album, but the eight-song collection does serve as a fitting coming out party. Blanket-labeled as “folk” and “rock”, Mount Moriah never find themselves barking up the same tired tree that the trendy Americana bands are currently crowded around. No, Mount Moriah is more mature and subtle, less focused on a “sound” and more on honing their songwriting craft. Fittingly, the group is most comfortable when they are upbeat and muscular, as the primary members have roots in post-punk and metal. “Social Wedding Rings”, easily the collection’s highlight, sees front-woman Heather McEntire full of dogged conviction, hitting her consonants hard and creating a bluesy romp that would be at home with the best material of both Lucinda Williams and Sharon Van Etten.
Other standouts include the hand-clapping, gospel-infused mover “Lament” (whose opening line of “if this will be anything, then let it be over,” sums the song’s bitter flavor perfectly) and southern-fried foot-tapper “Reckoning”, which proves that the band’s country aspirations are attainable when the right amount of restraint is shown.
Unfortunately, the album is inconsistent, with sluggish diversions “Old Gowns” and “Hail, Lightning” weighing down the short collection with their meandering pace and lengthy delivery. But, even at the moments when Mount Moriah seems more like a work in progress, it is easy to see the potential that Merge Records noticed. The band avoids trends, with the album capturing what outsiders might imagine a “Carolina sound” to embody, fit for drinking an iced tea and watching children play tag, racing along a twilight creek. Mount Moriah is ultimately a refreshing debut whose flaws can easily be excused as growing pains.
Essential Tracks: “Social Wedding Rings”, “Lament”