When H.C. McEntire found herself struggling to make sense of years of accumulated demos, she sought guidance from riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna, who gave McEntire sage advice: Listen to Wanda Jackson. The suggestion helped McEntire focus and arrive at her stunning 2018 solo debut, Lionheart.
The album isn’t far removed from the iconoclastic Americana of McEntire’s band, Mount Moriah. But Lionheart is more indebted to the vintage country the North Carolina native absorbed while growing up in rural western North Carolina. Shivering pedal steel curls up alongside piano on the gospel-tinged “A Lamb, A Dove,” while “Baby’s Got The Blues” recalls ’70s Dolly Parton, as keening organ and rumbling guitars acquiesce to quivering strings.
McEntire grew up in a deeply religious Southern Baptist family but forged a different path for herself in college. She came out as queer and embraced punk’s independent ethos, rising to prominence as the leader of the raucous post-hardcore band Bellafea and, later, of Mount Moriah. She’s also been part of Angel Olsen’s recent touring band.
Lionheart underscores how much McEntire values community, with an impressive roster of guests that includes Indigo Girl Amy Ray, Phil Cook, Tift Merritt, and Hanna herself. However, the album’s lyrical vision—songs that explore the intersection of faith, relationships, and queerness—is deeply personal. “I can only feel your heart/Through your dress in the dark,” she sings, her voice dripping with longing. And on “A Lamb, A Dove,” redemption and solace are within reach. “I have found heaven/In a woman’s touch,” she warbles with tenderness. “Come to me now/I’ll make you blush.”