ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
February 5, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
HC McEntire's debut solo album, Lionheart, starts with a hymn. Like many hymns, "A Lamb, A Dove" is stunning, with heavenly harmonies, swelling instrumentation and talk about a kingdom full of mercy and faith. Unlike most hymns, the singer anchors this grace in the frankly sensual: I have found heaven in a woman's touch / Come to me now / I'll make you blush.
We were introduced to HC McEntire (back when she was just Heather) as the singer-songwriter driving the soulful Southern roots of Mount Moriah. Upon the release of 2016's game-changing How to Dance, I sagely wrote, "Heather McEntire is as strong a writer and vocalist as Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom or Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Segarra". She practiced a gift for nearly impressionistic portraits of her rural South, her musical pocket a country-leaning indie-folk. And more than any other indie artist, she sang with a voice steeped in the traditions of gospel and Appalachian song.
The story behind Lionheart tells how HC McEntire wrote these songs while touring as a keyboardist with Angel Olsen. With her band on hiatus, she shared the demos with respected punk trailblazer Kathleen Hanna, who encouraged her to embrace the country sound, listen to Wanda Jackson and to pursue a solo recording. While she hadn't really hidden her identity as a queer woman deeply rooted in the Baptist South, McEntire also sought to tell her own story a bit more directly on her new collection.
Lionheart is rich with moving musical gestures, surrounding but never overshadowing McEntire's voice with music from the heart of the South. Familiar instrumentalists like Phil Cook and William Tyler grace the grooves alongside the voices of Tift Merritt, Angel Olsen and Amy Ray. "Baby's Got the Blues" compliments the recent ecstatic soul of Hiss Golden Messenger's recent records. Upbeat and with a fuller musical accompaniment, "Quartz in the Valley" and "Red Silo" are Lionheart's most accessible moments. Both could've found homes on Mount Moriah's How to Dance or 2013's Miracle Temple. Throughout, there is a simplicity and directness to the band's approach.
As a writer, McEntire has always been more prone to imagery than to story. And while songs like "Dress in the Dark" are bolder than we're accustomed to, she tends not to point fingers or to write her lyrics in ALL CAPS. Instead, she is more likely to simply train her writerly camera. With a darker Southern gothic musical bed, McEntire sings, "I can only feel your heart / Through your dress in the dark". "One Great Thunder" and "A Lamb, A Dove" are lush and hymnlike, pretty and lilting pieces in whose shadows hide unexpected barbs. "Wild Dogs" sounds almost like Kate Bush, if she were raised in rural North Carolina.
HC McEntire doesn't damn her native South as much as she tries to reconcile with it. That fragile connection happens primarily through her music, which fully embraces the country, gospel and folk of her childhood even more than her work with Mount Moriah. "When You Come For Me" is a lovely country ode to home, a place we came from and to which we'll return when it's over: "When you come for me / Let the mountains hold my bones / There's a place for me / Let me lie down with you in the cold". In the familiar folds of the song, however, are nestled the lines, Mama I dreamed that I had no hand to hold / And the land I cut my teeth on wouldn't let me call it home". If her family continues keeps an uneasy quiet with her identity as a lesbian, the singer has achieved a certain peace with where she belongs in their pastorally idyllic but culturally conflicted place. It's the defining theme for Lionheart, but the prevailing spirit is communicated through the beautiful music.
- Avett Brothers, "Salvation Song" Mignonette (Ramseur, 04)
- Kevin Morby & Waxahatchee, "Farewell Transmission" single (Dead Oceans, 18)
- Fruition, "I Should Be (On Top of the World)" Watching it All Fall Apart (LoHi, 18)
- Laura Veirs, "Everybody Needs You" The Lookout (Raven Marching Band, 18) D
- Mavis Staples, "Try Harder" If All I Was Was Black (Anti, 17)
- Jake Xerxes Fussell, "Furniture Man" What in the Natural World (Paradise of Bachelors, 17)
^ HC McEntire, "Quartz in the Valley" Lionheart (Merge, 18)
- Marlon Williams, "Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore" Make Way For Love (Dead Oceans, 18) D
- Tommy Emmanuel w/Jason Isbell, "Deep River Blues" Accomplice One (CGP, 18)
- Ronnie Eaton, "Sleeping in Hell" Hand That Mocked Them ... (Eaton, 18)
- Lindi Ortega, "Comeback Kid" Liberty (Shadowbox, 18)
- JD Wilkes, "Moonbottle" Fire Dream (Big Legal Mess, 18)
- Mike & the Moonpies, "Steak Night at the Prairie Rose" Steak Night at the Prairie Rose (M&M, 18)
- Chris Stapleton, "Drunkard's Prayer" From A Room: Vol. 2 (Mercury, 18)
- Erin Enderlin, "Whole 'Nother Bottle of Wine" Whiskeytown Crier (Blue Slate, 17)
- Pearl Charles, "Blue-Eyed Angel" Sleepless Dreamer (Kanine, 18)
- Caleb Caudle, "Headlights" Crushed Coins (Cornelius Chapel, 18)
- Fruit Bats, "From a Soon-to-Be Ghost Town" Absolute Loser (Easy Sound, 16)
- Haley Heynderickx, "Oom Sha La La" I Need to Start a Garden (Mama Bird, 18)
- Hackensaw Boys, "Oval Room" single (Free Dirt, 18) D
- Joshua Hedley, "Mr Jukebox" Mr Jukebox (Third Man, 18) D
- Richmond Fontaine, "Hector Hidalgo" Don't Skip Out On Me (Fluff & Gravy, 18)
- Jeff Hyde, "Cold" Norman Rockwell World (Hyde, 18)
- Courtney Marie Andrews, "Kindness of Strangers" May Your Kindness Remain (Mama Bird, 18)
- Bennett Wilson Poole, "Soon Enough" Bennett Wilson Poole (Aurora, 18) D
- Rod Picott, "Take Home Pay" Out Past the Wires (Welding Rod, 18) D
- Great Peacock, "Heartbreak Comin' Down" Gran Pavo Real (Ropeadope, 18)
- Caitlin Canty, "Motel" Motel Bouquet (Tone Tree, 18)
- Smog, "I'm New Here" A River Ain't Too Much To Love (Drag City, 05)
- Gram Parsons, "Return of the Grievous Angel" Grievous Angel (Warner, 74)