Mountain magic: A wealth of talent with local roots graces C’ville stages

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Mountain Man’s Alex Sauser-Monnig (left) and Amelia Meath have played Charlottesville twice before, their unamplified voices soared to the heavens at The Garage and at Christ Church. The Haven, a secular space with religious affiliations and history (as well as stellar acoustics), seems like the perfect spot for these hymn-haunted songs. Publicity Photo. Mountain Man’s Alex Sauser-Monnig (left) and Amelia Meath have played Charlottesville twice before, their unamplified voices soared to the heavens at The Garage and at Christ Church. The Haven, a secular space with religious affiliations and history (as well as stellar acoustics), seems like the perfect spot for these hymn-haunted songs. Publicity Photo.

Despite the band name, Mountain Man is actually a musical group of young women: Molly Sarle, Alex Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Meath. The trio began singing together as students at Bennington College in 2009, and quickly got the attention of the music world, first by touring alone, and later with The Decemberists, members of Sigur Rós, and as a backing band for Feist. It’s not hard to tell why the act rose to fame so quickly—one listen is enough to make you a fan. Singing in an otherworldly vocal harmony (as if one brain was commanding three mouths) in a cappella, or with minimal backing, they sound like the ghost of Appalachian gospel folk.

While the trio’s spooky and beautiful songs are filled with references to music that is a century old, Mountain Man is difficult to pigeonhole as a revival act. The songs (all originals) are too peculiar and surreal to be mistaken for wayward outtakes in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. The lyrics, in particular, signify the work of three women who attended a liberal arts college in the 21st century, and often seem to imply a daydream or a private joke.

Ultimately, they combine the most winning aspects of multiple eras to create music that is timeless, reveling in the possibilities allowed by the voice, overwhelmingly sweet and wistful, and often veering into the sad, the silly, or the joyous.

Two-thirds of the group, Suaser-Monnig and Meath, will perform on May 17 at The Haven. Sauser-Monnig has lived in Charlottesville for several years, while Meath occasionally traveled through when touring with other acts. The Haven, a secular space with religious affiliations and history (as well as stellar acoustics), seems like the perfect spot for these hymn-haunted songs.

They share a bill with Erik the Red, another golden-voiced singer who evokes the past, now fronting the trio Red and the Romantics. The group recently released the record Franklin Street, which perfectly captures its easygoing charm, and showcases Red’s Leon Redbone-esque vocals.

Baltimorian songwriter Caleb Stein rounds out the line-up. Tickets are $10, doors open at 7pm, and refreshments will be available. The Haven’s acoustic showcase launches an annual series of musical fundraisers for the shelter, with all proceeds going towards its mission of providing a resource center and day shelter for the area’s homeless.

Dues paying off

Also on May 17, a solid line-up of locals grace the stage of The Southern.

The Hill and Wood, led by Sam Bush, released its debut in 2011 and have been logging time on the road since, solidifying a live show, appearing at South By Southwest, CMJ, and The Kennedy Center, and recording a Daytrotter session. “We’ve since spent much more time together as a band,” Bush said, “playing about 50 shows a year, many of which have involved long drives through the night. I think those moments are just as important as practicing in some ways. When you see someone at their worst, that’s when you really get to know them. Seeing them at four in the morning without having showered for three days and maybe feeling a little homesick. Knowing each other in that way somehow helps us sound better on stage. The most valuable part so far has been that slow and patient process of getting to know ourselves as a band.” The Hill and Wood is currently in the early stages of recording its sophomore album at local White Star Sound studio.

GEMS is the newest project of Clifford Usher and Lindsay Pitts, well-known to many locals for the years playing together under the name BirdLips. After departing Charlottesville, living on tour, and recording at various spots from the road, Usher and Pitts settled in D.C. last year and decided to give their musical collaboration a clean slate. The shift isn’t just a band name change, but a new direction for the duo. “GEMS is indeed a new band, with all new material,” Pitts said. “It’s definitely a different sound. Much louder and more expansive than what we were doing before. More of a visceral experience, less from the head and more from the heart. I think people who have not seen us as GEMS will be very surprised.”

Dead Professional is another new name for a familiar face, John Harouff, one half of the Cinnamon Band and a former member of Staunton-based noise-rock trio The Union of a Man and a Woman. After debuting on the Southern stage during the Tom Tom Festival, Dead Professional returns, showcasing Harouff’s songs backed by a series of loops and pedals.

Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door, show begins at 8pm.

 

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