Hiss Golden Messenger
Hallelujah Anyhow, 180G Black Vinyl LP Record, MRG650LP
M.C. Taylor has been making music for more than 20 years, first as a member of the hardcore act Ex-Ignota and later as frontman for the California country-rock group the Court & Spark. He formed his latest incarnation, Hiss Golden Messenger, when he moved to North Carolina in the late 2000s, but only in the last five years has that band become a full-time gig for the folklorist and family man. During that relatively short time, he has not changed his approach or his subject matter: He still writes intelligently and insightfully about America as both a place to inhabit and a story to tell, about the trials of faith and the lure of doubt, about family and its incumbent responsibilities.
Taylor has not changed, but the times certainly have. Bridging two extremely different presidential administrations, Hiss Golden Messenger suddenly sounds all the more prescient in 2017 than it did even on the group’s most recent album, last year’s Heart Like a Levee. Taylor’s constant theme has been joy in the face of misery, jubilation during times of tribulation, hope despite the tide. As he sings on “Jenny of the Roses,” the first song off Hallelujah Anyhow, “I’ve never been afraid of darkness, it’s just a different kind of light.” With its burbling tempo and gospel piano, it sounds like a joyful tune, but the lyrics reveal gradations of regret and despair as Taylor celebrates the life of someone long departed. “Jenny of the Roses” is the very definition of bittersweet, as are the songs that follow.
There is something comforting in the contradictions Taylor explores on Hallelujah Anyhow, something that speaks generally to what it means to be a conscientious and compassionate citizen at a time when every day seems to introduce some new travesty. How do you find and express joy when the world is crumbling all around you? That’s been the subject of nearly every Hiss Golden Messenger album, but it’s especially pronounced on Hallelujah Anyhow, a record of fluttery soul-grooves and complicated insights. (The album title is perfect, the album cover not even close.) Taylor has said it’s not a protest album. Instead, it might be called a persist album. It doesn’t speak truth to power, but reassures and invigorates those who feel powerless. -Pitchfork