The Punch Brothers, The Milk Carton Kids, The Avett Brothers. Readers of Uncut magazine will be familiar with the Americana folkies running away with the genre. This side of the Atlantic? It’s all gone a bit Nashville. Nothing wrong with that… but we’re looking for some original sin, too. Where are we going to find it? Delamere Forest, apparently. By Alan O’Hare.
The last time I wrote about Mountainface, back in autumn 2016, I hoped that the place Greil Marcus focused on in his book about the music of Bob Dylan and The Band, ‘Invisible Republic’, still existed. It does. How do I know? Nearly two years later, an EP has landed in my inbox that contains five songs rooted in the earth. That “old, weird America”? No… Chester. Well, the outskirts of Delamere Forest to be exact.
“A planned songwriting session found us trawling the outskirts of Delamere Forest,” the folk trio tell me. “Eventually, somewhat disheartened and exhausted, we stumbled upon Dead Lake and the bare bones of ‘Mirrors’ were formed.” The standout of the ‘Dead Lake’ EP, ‘Mirrors’, floats in on a dexterous acoustic guitar figure, is joined by a flourish of mandolin and starts to rise with drive and precision percussion across an ascending melody. It’s a cracker and moves just like Mountainface. “Over the following months the songs came together and that spot became a place of refuge,” say the Chester folkies.
You can tell… sure, there’s a soupçon of Sandy Denny in the fragility and left turns of the gorgeous ‘Pariah’, and a clear and obvious debt to the contemporary likes of Damien Jurado in aptly-named ‘The Chaser’, but Mountainface have something startling all of their own going on. They’re supporting Eliza Carthy as I write and it should be a match made in heaven: artists who move forward by looking back and strive to shape their own path out of a crowded scene.
‘Americana’ is the word used to describe those who are a little bit folk and a little bit country, but I’d be surprised if Mountainface shot off to Nashville to do some co-writing… they’re much better than that. An original proposition, the three-part harmonies they utilise colour in their urgent rhythmic patterns and those tasteful little notes they specialise in are ear-catching. The songs are strong, too… ‘Native Dust’ (“we’re just icecaps falling into the sea”) is another standout and perhaps their biggest chance of a crossover – especially when a mournful cello joins the dance and the song is swept home on powerful and percussive guitar and mandolin strings.
“The lyrics seem to have come from someone with a head full of questions and not enough answers,” they say. Who wants answers? The music Mountainface are making, and marching towards, can’t be found on any map. Welcome home, boys.
Pic courtesy Twin Moon