When I first heard about Mountain Man, the description of their music never grabbed me. Three girls, one guitar, a capella – for some reason these terms didn’t endear me to them. However, constant praise has a way of battering me into submission and their album, Made The Harbor has finally made its way into my ears, and my ears are all the better for it. What I’d missed in those initial reviews wasn’t what the band really did (that meagre description above is completely and utterly accurate), but how they could make that particular combination absolutely enthralling.
In just half an hour of vocal and occasional guitar, this Vermont group teach you that folk music needn’t rely on numerous instruments to ensure its variability (I’m talking to you Stornoway), it’s all in the melodies – or in this group’s case, the harmonies. These days, any harmony-driven folk group is immediately compared to Fleet Foxes, but Mountain Man shirk any such influences by sounding so totally authentic that they just couldn’t be drawing on anyone else’s inspiration. What ends up most impressive is how these girls can take such a sonically limited album and make it truly chageable throughout – we hear spine-tingling folk (‘Animal Tracks’), barbershop (‘How’m I Doin”) and even what sounds like a medieval carol (‘Mouthwings’) – and it’s (again) all in the charming, off-kilter harmonies. It never becomes samey because, simply, no two songs are the same, even if they’ve been produced and played in exactly the same way.
This is heart-warming and haunting in turn, could soundtrack a summer day or a winter’s night, draws on timeless New World and Old World sounds and manages to sound totally new and smile-inducingly familiar all at once. It’s a great big ball of contradictions, but one through line remains – it’s brilliant.