The Acorn’s Rolf Klausener conducted hours of interviews with his mother before setting off to write an album about her stunning life story. Her name -- Gloria Esperanza Montoya -- roughly means "glory hope mountain" in English. That’s her seductive figure on the album cover, dark tresses obscuring her face, a cigarette held provocatively in hand. Put together, the record’s background might suggest a slab of direct oral history in the vein of the Fiery Furnaces’ Rehearsing My Choir.
But look at that album cover again. Montoya stands amid an impressionistic collage of greenery and -- on the back sleeve -- black, rushing floodwaters. On Glory Hope Mountain, Klausener and his bandmates are as much concerned with the scenery as the specifics of his mother’s biography. That universal perspective, combined with deft lyricism and the band’s understated musicality, creates an album-length journey that welcomes participants rather than excludes.
Sounds and images of Montoya’s native Honduras flash throughout Glory Hope, especially its first half. In retelling his mother’s premature birth on “Hold Your Breath,” Klausener sets her struggle for life against the geography of her homeland -- rivers and valleys, dirt roads and farmhouses, and “the rhythm of the landscape that is breathing.” The band seethes in time, patiently building from spare piano chords to a cathartic crest six minutes later. “Flood Pt.1” is the first of several tracks to incorporate a multipronged percussive attack, with communal handclaps, shakers, and thunderous toms pounding in concert. “Glory” takes those same clattering rhythms and strips them of their bombast, lending its sunrise balladry a subtle, ever-shifting heartbeat. It’s the record’s most disarming track, and ends with what seems like the perfect summation of Montoya’s outlook: “I’ve known glory all my life.”
And as for Montoya herself? Her recorded voice only appears briefly on the instrumental interlude “Sister Margaret.” She recounts unexpectedly meeting an old friend from Honduras after having fled to Canada. Montoya is laughing as she speaks, reliving the joy of that chance encounter decades later. It’s that sense of spirit and discovery that colors Glory Hope Mountain, not so much its specific plot points. Like any story worth telling, this album is about more than just the events that it recounts. Heavy sentiment might clog its progress at times (the closing track lays it on a bit thick), but Glory Hope looks to be an excellent launching pad for further explorations by the Acorn.