Folk hero and world class record producer T Bone Burnett gave a devastating keynote address at the recent Americana Music Festival. What he said can be read elsewhere, but why he said it exists right here, right now, with Mountainface. The folk trio from Chester are creating a stir with their instrumental dexterity and three part harmonies. But it’s the dark heart of the songs that stands out. By Alan O’Hare. 

“In another world, in another place, in another world, in another place.” David Weir, singer with Chester-based contemporary folk trio Mountainface, is singing with an ache that reveals his desire to exit this mortal plain of form and solids and transcend into astral higher ground. Mountainface’s debut EP, ‘Let’s Play’, has been running around my head for a couple of weeks and the hypnotic ‘Another World’ won’t let go. Too much, too soon? Perhaps, but it’s great music, you see… all pounding and percussive acoustic guitars, mandolins as sharp as shards of glass and devastating harmonies. Getting three lads together to sing well is as rare as rocking horse shit in modern music. So, to hear it done properly, is a real attention grabber and puts you in mind of, say, The Punch Brothers.

There are other influences at work, of course, especially with a group so young working in such an established tradition – opening salvo ‘Let’s Play/’Morning Greeting’, for example, rolls in upon a riotous reel of Ryley Walker and takes a left turn to the darker avenues of Nick Drake. The playing is gorgeous and shadows the meandering melodies with a (light) touch of class. Distinctive bluegrass stylings are thrown in the mix, too, and only the group’s percussive momentum keeps them from perhaps taking a wrong turn down an alt-country road. That would be a shame… as these are songs dripping with sweat worked up in the north of England.

Many contemporary folk musicians follow big opportunities, quite rightly these days, to the promised land across the Atlantic, but only a few manage to resist the pull of America and hang on to their originality. Seth Lakeman did… Mumford & Sons didn’t. “Art is not a market to be conquered or to bow before, art is a holy pursuit,” declared T Bone Burnett last week, at (ironically enough) the Americana Music Festival & Conference in Nashville. T Bone’s right, we’re losing too many promising new artists to the survival chase. Ace producer Burnett – the man behind the Bob Dylan-digging ‘The New Basement Tapes’ and The Cohen Brothers’ recent ‘Inside Llweyn Davis’ – also declared that “… technocrats have taken control of our culture. But technology does only one thing – it tends toward efficiency – and has no aesthetics. It’s code is binary, but everything that makes life worth living, happens between the binary.” Mountainface’s best moments happen between the binary.

Songs like the forlorn, yet hopeful, ‘I Want You To Smile’ are out there looking for a home and folk music has always been the place to take in such wayfaring strangers. Does such an invisible republic still exist? Let’s hope so. The music made by the three young men of Mountainface deserves to find a place all of its own.

Mountainface’s ‘Let’s Play’ EP is out now

Pic courtesy Sam Rowlands Photography