Listener-supported public radio is going to have to do a pledge drive for me because Hiss Golden Messenger is the second musical addiction they've inspired this year (Lake Street Dive being the first and that review is forthcoming, dear readers). Their feature Heavy Rotation featured "Brother, Do You Know The Road," a non-LP single from HGM, the moniker for singer/songwriter M.C. Taylor. I fixated so fully on the song itself that I remember very little of what the guest DJ had to say about it. I bought the track on iTunes and counted the days until he issued his Merge debut Lateness of Dancers.
How did it take until 2014 for a Southern roots indie kid to write a song called "Mahogany Dread"? It took great restraint to wait for the song to come up in sequence because I was always going to need to hear a tune with this title. The anticipation had me rooting for the song, wanting to like it because of the cool title. I needn't have worried; it's one of the finest moments on this excellent record. I would love to take credit for this but it's really 11 who summed up the sound best: it's Crowded House meets Dylan. I could hear shades of "Something So Strong" as soon as he said it (much more in sound and tone than actual resemblance between the two tracks), particularly with the organ break and jangly guitar. And as for Dylan, it's not difficult to hear His Royal Bobness whining a passage like this:
The misery of love is a funny thing:
The more it hurts
The more you think you can stand a little pain
"Saturday's Song" is another highlight on the album with shades of a more whimsical Allman Brothers Band with it's twangy, ringing guitars a la Dickey Betts and rhythmic piano figures reminiscent of some of Gregg Allman's work. It's not difficult to hear Betts singing a song like, both the phrasing and the lyrical content.
It's not all playful, though. The somber, meditative title track The lyrics are, at times, but the protagonist sounds like a defeated man. There are cryptic, opaque phrases but HGM creates a spirtitual ambiance with sound, filling in the blanks with gauzy sounds. Plucked banjos make it naked and spare and yet rivulets of backward guitar and haunting backing vocals make things big and foreboding.
I wouldn't describe "I'm A Raven (Shake Children)" or "Southern Grammar" as danceable but both ride fun grooves and add dynamic to the HGM sound. "Raven" is built on an insistent bass line and fuzzed guitars while "Southern Grammar" shakes with guitars that gurgle and shimmer.
Hiss Golden Messenger has made a believer of me with Lateness of Dancers. Thank you, NPR. I am both richer and poorer for the discovery. Now how about a physical release of a Brother, Do You Know The Road EP?