On her new album, Every Acre (due Jan. 27 on Merge Records), H.C. McEntire focuses on the terrain around her home in the piedmont region of North Carolina.
What does it mean to plant roots? What does it mean to reckon with the ancestors—yours as well as the others whose souls inhabit the land around you? What does it mean for land to be passed through generations? Do any humans have a claim on the land on which they set their feet or lay their head?
These are among the questions that McEntire turns over in her insightful, evocative poetry and darkly haunting melodies. She enlists Kentucky singer-songwriter S.G. Goodman and Georgia’s Amy Ray to sing backup on a two-fer of songs (“Shadows” and “Turpentine,” respectively) that dig into the way white Southerners encounter the land.
“We can tend the land for a little while,” she and Ray sing on “Turpentine,” with tightly wound, sleepy harmonies. “Bones of those beneath the boundary lines.” And then an electric guitar, heavy under a fuzz pedal, cries and screams and cries again at the weight of all we inherit and the spirits that are released when we till the soil.
“Every acre that you ever owned,” they sing, invoking the album title. “Hissed and split like a radiator hose.”
“Big Love” and “Dovetail” offer a break from the theme, with their direct contemplations about women and love, but they seem to fit nonetheless. It is hard to fall in love or find oneself without land to stand on, after all.
“Rows of Clover” seems to sum up the entire thesis of the album, with its chorus, whose language feels like a series of shrieks—or like the air being slowly let out of a balloon. “It ain’t the easy kind of healing,” she sings. “When you’re down on your knees, clawing at the garden.”
Indeed, there’s plenty of pain in Every Acre, plenty of reaching for some kind of absolution. McEntire’s exquisite vocals are on full display, bumping and careening around her less-is-more poetry. The band she’s surrounded herself with builds a terrain of its own, and it rolls with hills and bends with creeks.
There is rock and country and folk in here, but it all feels like a hymn in the end.