Old Bear Mountain – Northwest Hymnal (2013)
Northwest Hymnal, the latest album by Spokane, Washington’s Old Bear Mountain, is the gorgeous follow-up to the band’s 2011 debut On The Run. The quartet of Wade Muncey (vocals, banjo), Derek McFaul (guitar, harmonica, kick drum), Mackie Hockett (vocals, piano), and Brett Didier (bass, tambourine) return with their magnificent patchwork of banjo-driven bluegrass interwoven with Irish folk.
For many of their songs, Old Bear Mountain draws inspiration from their surrounding geography–“Mount St. Helens,” “British Columbia,” and “Idaho” are just a few of Hymnal’s track titles–with lyrics that often incorporate sepia-toned imagery of gullies and groves, ferries and forests. In fact, the record as a whole serves as an homage to nature, a callback to a time when the trees were yet to be timbered and the roads yet to be paved. The album’s opening number, “All Weary Travelers for the Last Frontier,” showcases the unique voice of Wade Muncey, who conjures up those memories of days past and love lost, and functions to set the scene for an album packed as tightly as a bindle with nostalgia for the Old Pacific Northwest. On “British Columbia,” the additional vocals of Mackie Hockett are highlighted in a beautiful but remorseful chorus, exemplifying the way the record, despite its simplicity, is still capable of dimension and depth. Hockett takes the reigns on “Mountain to Sound,” a song about the evolving feelings one has when rambling around with someone from place to place for the sake of love: “I follow you across the country, or all the places you call home / I thought that you and I had something, but that was then, now I don’t know,” she sings. It’s a song that captures the essence of Northwest Hymnal–a journey through the Pacific countryside that expresses both the thrill of exploration as well as the longing for a life that’s a little more settled. But no matter which leg of Old Bear Mountain’s travels you find yourself drawn to, it’s almost certain you’ll be tapping your foot along the way.