On Mount Moriah’s 2011 self-titled debut, the duo—Heather McEntire of moody post-punks Bellafea and Jenks Miller of roaring Southern-metal behemoths Horseback—expertly put a modern spin on sepia-toned folk and country. With loving attention to detail, the pair spun tales of ill-fated relationships and romantic uncertainty using a backdrop of sighing pedal steel, distressed guitar twang, and McEntire’s bittersweet vocals.
Miracle Temple, Mount Moriah’s second album and its debut for Merge Records, expands on this sonic foundation. For starters, the record is more ornate than the band’s debut, because of the nuanced arrangements and a colorful instrumental palette. Resonant basslines and understated drums create an enveloping rhythmic foundation, over which the band layers mournful violin, melancholy organ bleeds, and solemn bursts of piano. Spurts of gang harmonies further the hushed tone, and contribute to Miracle Temple’s occasional ’70s-rock vibe. (In fact, “Swannanoa” and “Rosemary” aren’t that far from the tone set by Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.) This lusher atmosphere coalesces on the album-ending “Telling The Hour,” an unsettled epic on which McEntire warbles like a woman scorned as dirge-like guitars, scattered piano, and fretting strings rage.
As this song underscores, Miracle Temple is a far more confident effort. McEntire especially shows remarkable vocal growth—hollering like a young Ann Wilson on the stormy, string-tossed “Miracle Temple Holiness,” trilling like a lonesome starlet on the organ-burnished “Younger Days” and the gospel-touched torch song “I Built A Town,” or turning up the sass on harmony-rich country swing “Bright Light.”
But besides adding unique tones, McEntire’s honeyed vocal timbre helps shake the album out of sporadic tempo doldrums when Miracle Temple drags and lacks a palpable spark. Yet even the occasional sleepy moment can’t obscure the album’s sincerity and heart, and Mount Moriah’s status as a band with substantial things to say.