By now, it’s obvious that the individual members of Big Thief are just as creative and productive individually as they are working together as a band. After the band released two separate full-length albums in 2019, U.F.O.F. and Two Hands, both earning attention in the Grammy nominating process, singer/songwriter Adrianne Lenker released two solo albums in 2020, drummer James Krivchenia released one as well, and guitarist Buck Meek, released his second solo album, Two Saviors. As soon as the pandemic made it possible to regroup, they worked recorded last year’s epic, double album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, which made Big Thief one of the big alternative rock acts of 2022. Now, a year later, Meek is back with this third solo album, Haunted Mountain.
While Lenker’s unique vocal styling and idiosyncratic melodic approach profoundly shape Big Thief when the quartet are playing together, left to his own devices, guitarist Meek leans toward a more up-tempo, approach to Americana enriched by the influence of folk/rock pioneers like The Band, and the live jamming of the Grateful Dead. Meek has recorded all his solo records with the same band, Austin Vaughn on drums, Adam Brisbin on guitar, and Mat Davidson on pedal steel and bass. For this session, they were joined by bassist Ken Woodward, and Meek’s brother Dylan sitting in on piano and synths, while Davidson also took on the role of the album’s producer, with the band recording together live in the studio in two weeks.
The album’s title track is the album’s strongest, most polished track, with a solid country rock amble, solid pedal steel and guitar parts throughout, and Meek’s solid vocal and a lyric about living one’s life as “a rounder,” but “now that I live here on this haunted mountain, I’m never coming down again.” It’s classic in form, but fresh and raw in delivery. Elsewhere on the album’s 10 other tracks, the band tends to play looser, and less scripted. “Undae Dunes” is a big, noisy blues rocker with lots of distorted guitar, about a U.F.O. that carried off Jim, who “still flies with a silver locket,” and “every night he’d think of Susie,” the girl he left behind. So, you know, Meek is still mixing it up with the cosmic aspects of life on this mysterious blue orb we share.
Meek writes about a “Mood Ring,” crystal ball dew-drops, green rivers and grasses, bottled tears, a pair of jeans, earrings, and motorcycles as well as a spaceship, but he’s most interested in the love as a consciousness that opens up a person’s mind, animating the seemingly inanimate world around us. In “Paradise,” he sings gently about a love interest with “Heaven in your eyes,” and wonders if she’ll “tell me about living in the afterlife/A home of roses made of light/I see it in your eyes.” In a bit of 60’s folk pop nostalgia, “Didn’t Know You Then,” with a lovely guitar solo, while the acoustic finger-picking of “Where You’re Coming From,” builds to a solid folk rock vibe, shaped around the desire to see through the mystery of a new love interest, admitting that “I wanna know where you’re coming from now.”
Late in the record, there’s the lovely quiet “Lullabyes,” which is delivered mostly by Meek alone on acoustic guitar, but is joined by a warm, moving violin solo about halfway through, it’s a delicate, satisfying moment. Meek and his band explore their own sonic space in a world adjacent to Big Thief, no doubt pleasing to their fans and perhaps to even some who’ve failed to be pulled into the hypnotic sway of Lenker’s talents.
“Haunted Mountain” / “Where You’re Coming From” / “Didn’t Know You Then”
ARTISTS WITH SIMILAR FIRE
Big Thief / Neil Young / The Avett Brothers
- Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Australian Carnage – Live At The Sydney Opera House [Album Review] - September 28, 2023
- Deeper: Careful! [Album Review] - September 27, 2023
- Will Butler + Sister Squares: Will Butler + Sister Squares [Album Review] - September 22, 2023