H.C. McENTIRE – Eno Axis (Merge MRG772)

Eno Axis

Eno Axis, the second solo album by the former Mount Moriah singer opens with country gospel keyboard backing and the lines “early rise, start the fire, till the rows, pass the tithes” on ‘Hands For The Harvest’, a celebration of rural simplicity, of sowing, growing, and nurturing, written in woodlands during a retreat with her girlfriend, seeking love as part of the daily routine.

Named for the confluence of the river that flows through Orange and Durham Counties in her home state of North Carolina, it’s a stripped down affair that pivots around love and nature, a distillation of ideas about home.

The pulsing waves of ‘Footman’s Coat’ follow a similar course (“Calla lilies, brine, and/A chateau in the spring/Paint the stillest life/With all the little things”), although here there’s the suggestion of seeking refuge from troubles (“In a different life/I’d have taken on your name/Given you a child”) with the line about “Been trying to bribe the dark horse/With an arrow and a bow” perhaps hinting at depression.

Featuring Nathan Bowles on banjo and Allyn Love’s pedal steel, ‘High Rise’ (on which echoes of The Band can be heard) captures the euphoria of the first flush of falling in love (“Came at me like a wrecking ball/Like a high-rise summons concrete/Can’t remember what there was before/You caught me dizzy up the backstreet”), Luke Norton laying down some stellar funky guitar licks. Then, tolling an opening note that put me in mind of Funboy Three’s version of ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’, ‘River’s Jaw’ proceeds through a dark, ominous drum and reverb guitar heavy brooding desert soundscape for a lyrically abstract song that speaks about having to be broken down in order to be reborn.

A swirl of effects and keyboards, ‘One Eye Open’ turns the gaze outward to address racial injustice with lyrics that reference white supremacy and the Klan (“That criss-cross flag Is flapping in the wind/And the crosses burn/Til the morning”) and the money (“plates being passed/Full of silver and green”) and attitudes of Southern fundamentalism that could well see Trump back in the White House.

‘Final Bow’ returns to more familiar musical shapes with its glowering, soulful electric guitars and slow march drum beat as the song treats on ageing, specifically from a female perspective (“Mirror glass and her hair styled high/In a gilded gown and tired eyes/Heavy-handed tight-lined thick/Winged lashes under ashen lids/Hot-bloods line for the moody bride/Pistol-whipped to the diamond hive”) and more specifically a woman in the unforgiving music business (“Just play the hits/When the curtains fill and there’s nothing left/But Vaseline and well-timed fits/Rosewater, slinging bottles of gin”).

There’s an air of extentialism to the slow swaying spiritual Celtic folk framework of ‘True Meridian’ (“Infinite arc, same as the Source/A billow, a spark, and a flame/You walked along the true meridian/A pure obsidian in hand”), a track that affords Norton a searingly throaty guitar showcase solo before the brief instrumental aurora borealis of ‘Sunday Morning’ that simultaneously conjures church bells ringing, bees swarming and a murmuration of starlings.

That swirling hum carries across into the opening drone of ‘Time, On Fire’, another meditation on ageing and mortality, envisioning the ephemarlity of life as a flickering candle wick or an “eager-winged hummingbird” that disappears no sooner than it lands on the window sill, as it settles into a chugging beat and another reverb heavy guitar break.

It ends with a cover, a magnificent stripped down version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Houses Of The Holy’, initially just bass and guitar before churchy organ arrives, transforming it from folk blues bombast into a tender, gospel-infused and vulnerable slow waltzing hymn to the sacredness of a deep connection. An Eno Axis bold as love you might say.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.hcmcentire.com

‘River’s Jaw’ – official video: