Hiss Golden Messenger
Bad Debt, Deluxe Remastered, 180G Black Vinyl LP Record, MRG623LP
The story of how Bad Debt was destroyed has eclipsed the story of how it was created. M.C. Taylor wrote these songs in the months following the birth of his son in 2009, then he recorded them in the dead of the North Carolina winter on a cassette recorder at his kitchen table, playing softly so as not to wake the household. Taylor was all set to release those recordings as Bad Debt, his first wide release as Hiss Golden Messenger, but the CD stock was destroyed during the London riots of 2010, when his distributor’s warehouse was burned. The opening chords of “No Lord Is Free” sound all the more resolute for cutting so gingerly through the ambient hiss of Taylor’s kitchen.
It’s almost impossible to imagine the magnitude of such a setback for any artist, but especially for one trying to launch a new venture. That story has attached itself like a tall tale to the album, at least for those intrigued listeners who have dug deeper into Taylor’s catalog following the subsequent release of Poor Moon in 2011 and the mighty Haw in 2013. Yet neither story affects how we hear these modest and deeply moving songs three years later, when Bad Debt is finally getting a proper release—with three new tracks—via the Tar Heel State indie Paradise of Bachelors. There are two reasons this tale of tribulation persists: First, it exposes the consequences of that fire and makes very real the sense of monetary and professional loss. Second—and much, much more crucial—that fire seems almost biblical in nature, as though God Himself reached down and smote Taylor. It is a tribulation worthy of Job.
“Are you with me now”? Taylor sing-whispers at the very start of the album. He delivers the line in a hush, even before the guitar enters, and that question resonates as both a gentle invitation to the listener and an invocation of a heavenly host. Bad Debt is an album deeply concerned with the nature of faith and man’s relationship with his Maker. That title pretty much sums up the spiritual dynamic, although who owes what to whom remains mysterious and unresolved. The homespun quality of these recordings is crucial: They are raw and rough, humble and private. -Pitchfork