Photo courtesy of Andrew Synowiez
For a band that started out as a side project, Mount Moriah sounds completely natural in the spotlight. A few years back, singer/guitarist Heather McEntire took time out of her punk outfit Bellafea to link up with fellow Chapel Hill, North Carolina guitarist Jenks Miller. Miller’s main gig with the metal band Horseback seemed to mesh well with McEntire’s past, but the two weren’t interested in rehashing the same loud-and-brash territory. Instead, they formed Mount Moriah to explore their shared love of classic country and folk. 2011 saw the release of the band’s self-titled debut, a record that explored their Southern roots but from a modern perspective. The group quickly grew a following in Chapel Hill, and suddenly Mount Moriah became a rising star.
One of the fans helping to spread the word was John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. A fellow North Carolina native, Darnielle told Pitchfork “you don’t see a stage presence like Heather McEntire’s more than a few times in your life.” On the band’s self-titled album, McEntire’s presence was one of subdued intensity, but she’s admittedly more confrontational on Mount Moriah’s follow-up, Miracle Temple. Out February 26, the record finds the band more comfortable in its skin, both as a working unit and an in-demand national act. McEntire and Miller’s past experiences poke through in Mount Moriah’s crunchy riffs, but there’s a directness to the outfit’s demeanor. Simply put, Mount Moriah write great songs about everyday people. McEntire has the power of Dolly Parton and the emotional heft of Emmylou Harris, and it’s easy to hear why the band has become a go-to favorite for musicians ranging from Darnielle to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
“Bright Light” has the urgency and passion of a religious revival, but it could easily be a metaphor this young band’s career. Mount Moriah is burning bright, and there’s no foreseeable end.