Mountain Man's 'Look at Me Don’t Look at Me' is a live record for the ages.
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
Mountain Man – Look at Me Don’t Look at Me – Live at Saint Mark’s Cathedral – Nonesuch Records
Mountain Man is composed of Molly Sarlé, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath (of Sylvan Esso fame). Mountain Man has now officially been a band for over a decade, predating Meath’s and Nick Sanborn’s Sylvan Esso by three years.
On Look at Me Don’t Look at Me – Live at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, Mountain Man dishes up spiritual healing with a concert recording for the ages.
Between engaging banter and the deeps cuts that have garnered this trio international recognition, they showcase just how candid they can be with their audience—which in this case is the hyper-intimate sold-out room of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, Washington. I’m certain that this album will remain the only music recorded in a church that I’ll continue to listen to well into my twilight years.
The venue allows for these folk winners to be stripped bare and given all of the needed space for constricted meandering. The inevitable echo both amplify and dramatize these songs, as heard right off the bat with Michael Hurley’s ‘Blue Mountain’, which Mountain Man originally covered for 2018’s Magic Ship. The St. Mark’s Cathedral version was released as a single for the project. The air of playfulness that the original studio cut had is absent, resulting in the bone-chilling projection necessary to fit the room.
Each musical number on this live album is vocally delivered with the confidence resembling that of the incantations of a seasoned coven—effortlessly beautiful and piercing.
Live records can only do so much to make you feel like you’re physically present, but this trio of established performers achieved such results naturally. The banter cuts translate well, given the nature of the space and a respectful audience. The brief discussions of the importance of IUD’s are comical given that they were in an Episcopalian church.
This take on ‘Boat’ makes the listener feel like they’re actually at sea, revealing more of the song’s drama than the original let on. The three singers' voices rise and fall naturally with the breaking waves.
The concert’s second cover is Fiona Apple’s ‘Hot Knife’, from 2012’s acclaimed The Idler Wheel is Wiser[…]. Covering this song indeed displays vocal dexterity, with the lyrics rapped and timed in an impeccable unison.
The group also breathes fresh life into Ted Lucas' 1975 'Baby Where You Are'.
‘Human’ was penned by Mountain Man member Sarlé for her 2019 album Karaoke Angel. Mountain Man’s cathedral performance of this song spins a more obscured and darker approach than the prototypal, with less of the tracks inherent brightness coming through. This allows the lyrics to rattle further around inside the listener.
‘Window and Moon’ is a bright medley of two separate songs from Magic Ship that fit together fluidly.
The renditions of the songs from their debut record Made the Harbor are my favored numbers off of this live album. Ten years after their original release, ‘Dog Song’, ‘Mouthwings’, ‘How’m I Doin’’, ‘Loon Song’, and ‘Animal Tracks’ remind listeners that Mountain Man has truly mastered playing these songs after recording and performing together over the course of a decade. 'Animal Tracks' and 'Dog Song' in particular have sharply reverberating echoes that'll rustle the jimmies of anyone.
The final track, The Wailin' Jennys' ‘Bright Morning Stars’, sounds like how it probably feels to die honorably on a hilltop. A sweltering and haunting send-off to an album that is capable of making us feel a little closer together in this world where concert attendance is prohibited until further notice.