Mountain Man: Made The Harbor Review
Vermont all female trio Mountain Man performs tunes of a genre that should be familiar to us by now, due to its recent resurgence in popular music. The old-timey folk melodies, bluesy acoustic chords, and pastoral lyricism have become fairly ubiquitous in music scenes all across the country (we have one of the best pools of such talent here in Minneapolis). And doubtlessly Mountain Man will soon find its niche in fans of Alela Diane, Gillian Welch, Caroline Smith, etc. etc. But to simply lump the band in with all the others would be a mistake. While yes, Mountain Man certainly does share a number of similarities with others of the genre, there is also quite a bit that sets them apart. The vocal harmonies, for instance, are almost entirely without musical accompaniment. Their songs are either entirely a capella or set to some very minor acoustic guitar, giving them a spooky similarity to church hymns.
And that overarching hushed, solemn, hymnal theme is what sets the tone in Mountain Man’s new LP Made The Harbor, even though it touches elements of Appalachia, spirituals, and even the close harmonies of the Andrews Sisters, as well. They are hymnals of a secular nature (thankfully) and directed more at nature than anything else, given the omnipresence of animals in nearly every track. Nature-based hymnals are certainly nothing new, but Mountain Man does have a certain something that sets them apart. Sprinkled throughout Harbor’s thirteen tracks are modern anachronisms that are antithetical to this type of music’s folky roots (they don’t call it “old-timey” for nothing). For an example in “White Heron” the line “your hands still move up my fleece” makes one think “fleece was invented in 1979! Doesn’t she mean to say ‘my hand sewn cotton dress made by my grandmother on the Appalachian steppe’?” That and other modernisms represent, to my mind, a feeling that this is music inspired by roots music, not just slavishly imitating it. (Unless this particular example actually refers to an animal’s fleece in which case my whole philosophy about this record is fucked).
Still, regardless of the band’s intention the modern influence is there, wanted or otherwise. It gives more ambitious legs to what might have been just another roots folk album (albeit a beautiful one at that). People will probably listen to Harbors for its throwback nostalgia though, not for its deft hints at something more forward thinking. And in that area Mountain Man certainly won’t disappoint either. Low-fi, homespun elegance like this hasn’t been heard since Alela Diane’s pre-Rough Trade days. And that elegance will doubtlessly see the band gain some success in the eyes and ears of the nation’s folk enthusiasts. I just hope that they continue to push boundaries as well (and push them more egregiously). That is what will eventually win them fans from music enthusiasts of different stripes than just the easy-sells.
— Jon Behm
Mountain Man will visit the Turf Club on 7/20 to open for Bear in Heaven and Twin Sister. Made The Harbor will be available on 7/13 via Partisan Records. Their EP Sun Dog is also available here via Underwater Peoples.