REVIEW: Mountain Man - "Made the Harbor"

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If you want to know where the Carter Family intersects with Joanna Newsom look no further than Vermont-based Mountain Man. These ladies are why people describe harmonies as "gossamer." Their debut Made the Harbor is one of those records that takes time, that takes a little osmosis, that takes a good thunderstorm and nothing to do to appreciate.

Mountain Man -- besides the wink of the name of the band when it includes 3 women (Molly Erin Sarie, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Amelia Randall Meth -- isn't reinventing any formula. The songs are deceptively simple usually just a single guitar over ethereal harmonies (this is where the Newsom part comes in, not in the structure, but complexity of vocal harmony) recounting old world times. It's almost white people mountain spiritual. The way the great acts of yesteryear (see the Carter Family) used to do it.

Perhaps what makes Mountain Man so arresting in a year of music that seems to be all about "chill" or "electro" this is very much not. "Buffalo" asks us to "Follow, follow, follow the buffalo." "Sewee Sewee" turns the onomatopoeia of the title into a gentle call to lie down in a field. Unlike the singular forces of notable female singer-songwriters like Neko Case or Jolie Holland (tho Mountain Man does intertwine somewhat with Holland's previous outfit the Be Good Tanyas, but less jazzy) Mountain Man is content to lie back and let simplicity take over. But, in no way does that mean that this work is less musical, just less willful. Tracks are interspersed with the subtle clicks of recording, with the ladies priming and readying one another for the next song. Without these, each track would seem to evaporate into the next gliding on the voices.

Someone once said, and unfortunately I think is was Bono in reference to Woody Guthrie, that all you need is 3 chords and the truth. Mountain Man has 3 voices and the truth. And amid the thunderstorm that's about to light the air here, it seems like anything else would be too much.


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