Release Date: Oct 7, 2016
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Hiss Golden Messenger is a strange name for the music of M.C. Taylor. Rather than preach the word, he’s often scoured for it, doubted and discarded it. Faith, he learned, cannot save you from depression or from the temptation to self-destruct, and when hypocrites can play it as their “get out of jail” card, what’s the use of it at all? God barely comes into the equation on the sixth Hiss album, recorded in Taylor’s 40th year—around the time when the Big Questions tend to get outweighed by smaller, more immediate responsibilities.
Dark clouds ahead and the barometer’s falling fast... By his own account, MC Taylor has been drifting from one dead-end gig to another for 20 years. Thankfully he always returns to his music. The latest chapter in the HGM story sounds like the best – they always do – with all the expected mood swings Taylor and his crack band can conjure.
Hiss Golden Messenger, the vehicle for songwriter M.C. Taylor’s back-porch mysticism, has long been associated with a noble strain of American Southernness. Hailing from North Carolina, he implants a vision of the Deep South in his songs. Yet the South he channels isn’t a South of billowing Confederate flags, caricatured accents, and country-boy machismo; it’s a South of antebellum ghosts, red clay, emptiness, complex Christian iconography and sonics that draw from folk-pop, roots rock, alt-country, white-man blues, and pew-shaking gospel.
When MC Taylor first attracted attention as Hiss Golden Messenger, he drew tentative comparisons with those titans of contemporary Americana, Bill Callahan and Will Oldham. He may not quite have hit those peaks yet, but his sixth full-length record is another collection of warm and rootsy songs and a persuasive bid for a place at alt-country’s top table. Taylor does not stray far from the sound of his vintage antecedents: Happy Day (Sister My Sister) has the languid swing of the Band, Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer feels like a classic cut of southern funk.
Despite its many references, Heart Like a Levee is just not a throwback record. Taylor combines, inhabits, and adapts his inspirations in the present through the strength of his writing. His melodies are basic; his words are anything but. They bridge the temporal to the eternal, the carnal to the divine, the homespun to the historic; they resonate directly through the grain of his unaffected yet emotionally expressive singing voice.
Heart Like A Levee.
DC Taylor’s sixth album as Hiss Golden Messenger finds him expanding his musical and emotional horizons even further from his country-folk baseline, inspired by a sense of growing conflict between the competing demands of his music and his family. ‘Heart Like A Levee’ was conceived partially as a collaboration with documentary photographer William Gedney’s portraits taken at a Kentucky mining camp in 1972, one of which – a striking image of a young boy – adorns the album cover, setting the scene for a set of songs that mine the past in the American south. Opener ‘Biloxi’ is a deceptively straightforward country strum with Taylor’s characteristic nasal voice referencing Dylan, but the record opens up after that point, taking the listener in different directions.
General consensus has it that the hardships of life on the road is far from the most compelling of subject matters for an album. MC Taylor - the North Carolina-based songwriter, singer and guitarist operating with a rotating cast of collaborators under the Hiss Golden Messenger guise - delivers compelling evidence to the contrary on Heart Like A Levee, by some distance HGM’s finest record so far. Which is saying something for an act whose previous accomplishments include Poor Moon (2011) and Haw (2013).
by Mac Gushanas Conor Oberst, he of the prolific, does-he-ever-stop-working class of folk-rock, has now reached seven solo albums to go along with countless others in groups like Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos. With Ruminations, Oberst goes bare and simple: a dude, his guitar, a piano, and a harmonica. That harmonica quickly becomes Oberst’s best friend.