Album Review: H.C. McEntire – Every Acre

[Merge; 2023]

The slow creak of a floorboard underneath an old rocking chair. The feel of worn woodgrain on a fading front porch column. The way eyes reflect the erratic movements of flame from a small campfire. The interior ache of a lost love. These are the details we find in the work of alt-country oracle and Mount Moriah frontwoman H.C. McEntire, a musician so attuned to details familiar and nostalgic that her songs act more as faded photographs than any sort of conceptual narrative. She is interested in moments and short stories told succinctly and without false sentiment or artificiality. Her voice is a conduit, timeless and beckoning from some primordial ocean of emotion and memory. She sings of worlds where love, struggle, anger, and our connection to the physical world around us aren’t separate components of life but are irrevocably enjoined facets of a more complex personal perspective.

Throughout her 2018 debut Lionheart and its successor 2020’s Eno Axis, McEntire found revelation in contrasting our unique vulnerabilities with our physical states – finding parallel tracks of emotional understanding through examining the natural world and the effect it has on us as we wander through its various geographies. Every Acre continues this infatuation with corporeal realms; with realizing that identity and recollection and emotional faculty can be irrevocably linked with the places we hold dear – and those we might like to forget. The act of reclaiming spaces for ourselves, whether it’s various intangible environs or something of a more tactile nature, is what this new album seeks to document. The often painful and exhilarating processes we work through to manage our own experiences act as the foundation for these intimate confessionals and breathtaking dives into individuality and self-realization.

Starting with the gorgeous opener “New View”, McEntire offers her own viewpoint on the complexities of affectionate entanglement. She makes a conscious decision in evoking the names of specific poets, singing “Read me Day, Ada, Laux, Berry, and Olds / Who knew it’d be so good?” – using each writer’s known histories of bringing hopeful endings to bleak horizons as fuel for her own ruminations on what it means to see the best when all others can only imagine the worst. And maybe the worst is coming, but McEntire isn’t fixated on that; at least, she isn’t at this moment. Backed by gentle guitar plucks and the eternal shuffle of her band, her voice desires both release and constraint as she intones, “Bend me, break me, split me right in two / Mend me, make me / I’ll take more of you.”

“Dovetail” veers into classic country territory with McEntire utilizing the grace of piano to great effect as she recounts numerous types of women and how they all react to various experiences in different ways. Her voice shivers and has a slight wobble to it, emphasizing the gravity of those who’ve come before. It displays a beauty in contrasts as she sings of women who are “sober and sunkissed” and those that “will never want you gone”. She finds nuance and elegance in these details, unearthing an impassioned longing that yearns to be wrapped in the rays of the sun. On “Soft Crook”, she highlights the desire for love and revels in the “soft crook on my woman’s arm”, turning determination into miracles as she sings of “angels all around” while a soft country breeze of measured electric guitar floats alongside the gentle lope of her words.

She shares the stage with SG Goodman on the pensive “Shadows”, a metronomic wisp that lays bare the ache of lost love and the struggle to move on when all that once was is now gone – or lays in ruin. Their harmonies circle above your head like birds entwined in some unknowable dance. Brief flashes of dissonance break through their soft movements, but McEntire bathes these ruminations in gorgeous conversational hues. Lines of quietly plucked guitar keep time with their collective reminiscing.

“Wild for the King” offers a bit more clatter and moody atmospheric heft, though she eventually allows the sounds to wander about, spinning webs of silvery guitar riffs and swaying melodies. But the album’s centerpiece, “Turpentine”, a duet with the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray, is an irresistible bit of rock and roll bluster that rips your heart to pieces as it offers up corrugated riffs and voices that rise and fall together in a rush of emotional connectivity. There’s something so visceral about it that you feel as though you’ve wandered into some private dialogue between two people who’ve been kind and generous, and selfish and vain, and everything we are to each other at some point in our lives. It’s the sound of upheaval and joy and the good and bad things we do to those we love. It’s a raucous wonder that lays itself bare beneath our gaze.

Through these places and these experiences, McEntire explores what it means to have a home, both emotionally and physically, and how our identities are tied to their specific expanses and their intimacies. As we are imperfect things, she conveys both the honest and false natures we present to the world around us, looking for meaning in why we attempt to hide and reveal parts of ourselves in ways that often feel unfocused and opportunistic. But there’s no sense of wallowing in misery here. She makes no effort to hide the ugliness of what we can be but also draws attention to the light we hold within. Every Acre is her way of reckoning with the juxtaposing natures inhabiting each of us, searching for personal illumination while also knowing that there are yet some places untouched by her curiosity and resolve. She’ll get there. She’s just content to take her time so that nothing is overlooked along the way.