MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch—formerly of the Court and Spark—have been quietly making beautiful records for a few years now as Hiss Golden Messenger. Theirs is a sound that is deeply southern, tied to the land and the sounds that come from that land. It’s the music of unwinding after a long day, month, year—which is to say it is bittersweet, laid-back, lilting—but in unwinding it also exposes the worry one is taking a break from, the ones we are both trying resolve and distance ourselves from.
When David Bowie sagely describes your act as “mystical country – like an eerie yellowing photograph”, you would seem to be on to something – and MC Taylor, leader of the North Carolina troupe known as Hiss Golden Messenger, certainly is. This follow-up to 2012’s magnificent Poor Moon is no less exemplary than its predecessor. Sounding like it was recorded by a babbling river close to a magic forest, Haw is inspired by a tributary from Cape Fear and reflects landscape while conjuring visions.
Haw is Hiss Golden Messenger's second offering for Paradise of Bachelors. It is titled alternately for a river in North Carolina and for a now extinct Indian tribe from the same region. The band, originally just songwriter/vocalist/guitarist M.C. Taylor and guitarist/bassist Scott Hirsch, has become a quintet.
“Sufferer (Love My Conqueror)”, a standout on Hiss Golden Messenger’s fourth album, Haw, is ostensibly a folk rock song, but instead of the expected fiddle playing the solo, there’s an disarmingly baroque string section. On the bridge it swoops and bends dramatically, but as the song winds down, the strings split in two, flowing against each other in strange currents and eddies-- not unlike the North Carolina river that gives the album its title. It’s a powerful moment, one that imbues some real drama into a song that functions as a kind of spiritual interrogation.
If the success of songwriters can be measured by their ability to create a world in song that is theirs and theirs alone, Haw marks the point where singer/guitarist M.C. Taylor – alongside multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsch, the mainstay of the Hiss Golden Messenger collective – has well and truly arrived. It would be a mistake to focus too much on the songwriting: the fourth HGM studio album is a team effort.
Laura Mvula SING TO THE MOON The songs on Laura Mvula’s debut album, “Sing to the Moon” (Columbia), hail from some alternate pop universe: a realm of choirs and orchestras, of dense harmonies and of songs that unfurl their own forms rather than follow verse-chorus-verse formulas. Ms. Mvula has a composition degree from the Birmingham Conservatoire in England and has directed a gospel choir; she’s a musical architect.