With Every Acre H.C. McEntire Reveals the Pain Buried Underneath the Ground We Stand on

Music Reviews H.C. McEntire
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With <i>Every Acre</i> H.C. McEntire Reveals the Pain Buried Underneath the Ground We Stand on

When Durham, N.C. native H.C. McEntire began her solo career after fronting the revered indie rock band Mount Moriah, she began to explore an authentic Americana songcraft that showcased her exemplary ability to tie nearly unexpressable emotions to nature. With 2018’s LIONHEART and 2020’s Eno Axis, location and ecosystems were presented as a way to bring a sense of calm through. How large could our problems be when we are all working in rhythm within a planet in constant motion? But on Every Acre, McEntire reveals that the soil we stand on may not be as solid as it seems.

In the liner notes of the album, McEntire acknowledges that Every Acre was written and recorded on traditional territory of the Eno, Lumbee, Occaneechi, Shakori, Saponi, Tuscarora, Catawba, Sissipahaw, Tutelo, Adshusheer, and Cheraw peoples. This type of acknowledgement is a painful and necessary step that all Americans should consider in order to grow as a unified nation. Is there such thing as progress when the horrors we have inflicted on this land’s indigenous peoples are more often forgotten than reckoned with? On the pulsing and spectral duet with S.G. Goodman “Shadows,” McEntire contemplates this predicament weighing Southern traditions against the steps it would take to “make room” for a new way of life.

McEntire’s previous solo releases solidified her as one of the most poignant writers we have dealing with the confusion surrounding love and purpose. On Every Acre, her poetic lyricism inspires a new perspective, one that zooms out of your limited vision, to understand the places we occupy in a grand existential sense. However, her focus is not only taken with the figurative aspect of these spaces, but as well with the actual tangible spaces we claim ownership over. In writing about the album, McEntire explained that the process of writing the album was spurred on by a “slow observation” of everything around her. It started as a way to process her grief and depression—”to give it a name,” she states in a release about the record. But in doing so, she began to realize that the grief we carry can also be passed through and perpetuated within the land we only temporarily and, in most cases, unrightfully inhabit as modern Americans.

The sonic quality of the record burrows deeper into the warm nest that McEntire and her band created on 2020’s Eno Axis. With minimal arrangements, McEntire and her small circle of musicians—which includes guitarist Luke Norton, bassist Casey Toll and drummer Daniel Faust—never rush or overwhelm with complexity. Instead, McEntrie and Norton’s warm and often tremolo’d guitars hum and converse with Toll and Faust’s laidback southern swing. The production by Miss Thangs, McEntire and Norton captures these performances with the delicacy of a paranormal investigator trying not to disturb spirits coaxed into revealing their hidden forms. It’s not necessarily a low-key album, as certain songs build with the ferocity of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse or even the dead-of-winter acidic guitar heroics of Jeff Tweedy during Wilco’s A Ghost is Born era. Songs like “Turpentine” and “Soft Crook” provide the right amount of stomp underneath McEntire’s expressive vocals and Norton’s blistering leads. On the former, McEntire is assisted by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls and lays out these questions surrounding the cruelty of land ownership. “Every acre that you ever owned / Hissed and split like a radiator hose,” she sings at one moment, acknowledging the faulty concept. “Hallelujah, turpentine! We can tend the land for a little while / Bones of those beneath the boundary lines—East in sets first / then clockwise, clockwise.”

Reading McEntire’s lyrics without musical accompaniment, you understand the considered nature to her writing. Songs are often spare, with scenes depicted in fragments. The naturalistic imagery of Every Acre is unavoidable. Like a meticulously constructed Terrence Malick film, you can practically feel the landscapes she conjures. “A season’s worth of wasted dirt,” in “Rows of Clovers” makes way for unused bushels stacked in the hallway after a barren harvest. The song uses this imagery to tackle grief and depression begging the question: how can you push forward and grow if those necessary nutrients are unavailable to you? “It ain’t the easy kind of healing,” she proclaims in its chorus, “when you’re down on your knees clawing at the garden.” McEntire does not always spell out her feelings in bold fonts, as these connections are revealed and appreciated more with deep and repeated listens. And that’s the beauty of her music in a nutshell. With her commanding and achingly beautiful voice, you can easily miss the subtleties of her writing being swept away by the grandeur of her presentation.

With such a heavy focus on surroundings, McEntire hasn’t fully abandoned that uncanny ability to write tender ballads that personify a heart left out on the line. The gospel-country of “Dovetail” depicts hollow relationships based on attractive qualities we place on a pedestal. Some women “dog ear the best bits” and some “want only the artist” she sings, as others will provide stability and constantly reel you back in when you go astray.

Every Acre is a profound listen, one that reveals more wisdom the more you surrender to it. McEntire has discovered painful truths in the process, without ever letting herself or our history off the hook.

Pat King is a Philadelphia-based journalist and host of the In Conversation podcast at Ears to Feed. He releases his own music with his project Labrador and is a tireless show-goer and rock doc fanatic. He recently took up long-distance running, which he will not shut up about. You can follow him at @MrPatKing.