Place has always loomed large in Americana singer/songwriter H.C. McEntire’s music, but never more so than on her second solo album Eno Axis (coming out this month on Merge Records). There’s that title, of course, establishing the name of the river alongside which McEntire lives in Orange County as the album’s through line. And more than any other record of hers, either solo or with her band Mount Moriah, Eno Axis feels grounded in a specific place.
“Geography is something I’ve always gravitated toward,” she says. “Places and landmarks. Working on the road touring for so many years, it’s hard not to consider distance and the way things are laid out, how you orient yourself. It helps me ground what I’m trying to say. Nature and physical location are incredibly important and powerful for me.”
Though the timing and circumstances obviously weren’t intentional, Eno Axis also arrives in the midst of a pandemic quarantine. With so many people holed up, they’re reconsidering notions of home as place of refuge, or oppression.
“Putting out a record in the middle of a quarantine feels like…I don’t even know what,” she says, laughing. “There are moments when I get a little bummed out because I love performing so much and it’s a big part of why I do the thing. But I’ve tried to just surrender to it all because it all feels so completely uncontrollable. I wish I could present these songs live the way I intended, but I’m just so ecstatic that people are able to hear it. I wouldn’t want to postpone it. The timing feels right to put it out now, and we’ll play again when we’re supposed to.”
To that end, Merge Records is introducing Eno Axis by rolling out a series of videos leading up to the release. McEntire also gave a live preview with a July 22nd “Music in Your Gardens” online Duke Performances show.
With her past records, McEntire has always had favorite songs. But “Eno Axis” stumps her, in part because it’s such a cohesive piece of work that flows from song to song, and she demurs when asked to single any individual songs out.
It’s intricately structured and sequenced, too. Late in the track list is an instrumental, “Sunday Morning” (composed by her co-producer/guitarist Luke Norton), specifically written in the key of F to make a smooth segue into the following song “Time on Fire.” Other highlights include “River’s Jaw,” with high lonesome guitar reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti-western scores; the lovely sweep of “Final Bow”; and a highly unlikely cover of a Led Zeppelin song, 1973’s “Houses of the Holy.”
But what leaves the biggest impression of all is the stately pace of these 10 songs, steadily rolling along like their namesake river.
“I’ve been in this spot for six years,” McEntire says. “It felt like home right away, as soon as I found it. I’m very happy to just look at the river. It’s not a roaring river, but I love it as a body of water. There’s a wiseness to it. The Eno is so special, and we all know that. The more I’ve traveled over the years, the more I’ve appreciated it as a magical place.”