Merge Records MRG 523 LP CD FLAC and MP3 Time: About 43 minutes
1) Lucia 2) Saturday’s Song 3) Mahogany Dread 4) Day O Day (A Love So Free) 5) Lateness of Dancers 6) I’m A Raven (Shake Children) 7) Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses) 8) Southern Grammar 9) Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song) 10) Drum
I got to know Hiss Golden Messenger’s (M. C. Taylor) music after perusing the online catalog of Tompkins Square, where I had purchased William Tyler’s solo album Behold The Spirit (prior to his Merge Records release Impossible Truth). I ordered the HGM album Poor Moon, and that was all it took for me to go off hunting for more, which led me to his 2013 album Haw (on Paradise of Bachelors) and ultimately to his first complete album Bad Debt, recorded in his kitchen shortly after the birth of his son in 2009. There are overtones of concern in that album, since it was created as the global economic crisis was hitting financial markets and was having tangible effects on people. It took Bad Debt a long time to see the light of day due to a warehouse fire during the London riots a few years back—most of the original CDs were lost. Amanda Petrusich has a brief essay about Taylor at the Merge Records link above, and it will give further insight on the roots of his music and her impressions.
Lateness of Dancers is quieter and a bit slower in pace compared to Haw and the recording is more intimate, even introspective with some of the qualities of Bad Debt. It includes some musicians from the previous albums along with primary collaborator Scott Hirsch (most often on electric and bass guitars) and William Tyler. Taylor’s songs appear to be largely personal self-reflections, laments on vulnerability, restrained joy, explorations of faith and optimism. This album sounds to me like it’s rooted in the early to mid-1970s in sound.
Taylor’s voice is at times like a melodic version of Bob Dylan as on Lucia, which has a gentle sway to it (as do other songs on the album). I immediately felt like I was back in the early 1970s during Saturday’s Song (a time when I listened to albums for hours on end). Saturday has a Jackson Browne Doctor My Eyes vibe to it and is instantly familiar and comfortable. The spirit of Mick Fleetwood was present for the back beat of Mahogany Dread along with an early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (for those of us old enough to remember!). No doubt, Taylor’s son’s voice opens Day O Day (A Love So Free) with his self-assured proclamation (present in younger children) of the song’s title. It’s quiet and contemplative and the subtitle gradually becomes an incantation of joy. Lateness of Dancers is one of the more serious sounding tracks on the album, the other being Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song), which is revealing and very contemplative. I’m a Raven (Shake Children) growls with a heavy beat and is a contrast to the slow-dance quality of Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses). Southern Grammar channels a gentler (yet still funky) version of Lowell George and Little Feat of the Dixie Chicken era (oh, how I miss Lowell George).
The album ends with a lightly orchestrated version of Drum (that first appeared on Bad Debt) and it has the spirit of a recessional, and it sounds hopeful “I’ll rise in the morning, take the good news and carry it away…” Lateness of Dancers is good news indeed, and it seems like Hiss Golden Messenger has landed at a good spot with Merge, where his work will hopefully get to a wider audience, and they will let M. C. Taylor continue unencumbered to do what he does best: write thoughtful and beautifully crafted songs.
In the past few months I’ve heard and seen a number of interviews with Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal in support of Rosanne’s latest album The River & The Thread (produced and arranged by John). In particular, check out her interview from the CBS Sunday Morning program—it’s a great piece about the roots of most of her music, but also the inspiration for the songs on River, and how blues legend Robert Johnson, the civil rights movement, Rosanne’s parents (Johnny Cash’s childhood home and her own first home) and a bridge all mixed together to form a thread that makes up her story.
I can’t say that I have all of her back catalog of albums, but I have many of them. Rosanne noted (with her dry wit) last night, “…this is a song from back when I had hits…” and in describing the journey that led to the latest album (paraphrasing) “…you spend a great deal of time wandering around in your 20s figuring out who you aren’t so you can figure out who you are when you’re…older…”
John Leventhal is an extraordinary musician and arranger, and the two of them have the same chemistry on stage as they do on River. At one point Rosanne noted (after a guitar solo by John, with heavy country and blues roots…again paraphrasing), “…hard to believe that this guy is a native New Yorker…” John treats his guitar like it’s a full band. It was also really nice that John played soft lead-in vamps on many tunes as Rosanne recounted stories related to the development of the album.
Most of last night’s show was taken from River, her previous albums The List, Black Cadillac, King’s Record Shop, and Seven Year Ache…I haven’t yet compiled the full set list (but see the photo below). One of the highlights (in addition to TWO power failures during the show…it was sleeting outside) was a perfect (even with power interruption) cover of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe, which has a strong connection to The River & The Thread (the Tallahatchie Bridge is on the cover of the album).
Their encore last night included taking some requests from the audience (including a verse from Runaway Train) along with a gorgeous version of 500 Miles from The List. John’s one trip to the piano with an arrangement that had elements of gospel and the light touch of Count Basie—brilliant; even better, it’s a song that one of my cousins used to sing to us younger cousins in the 1960s. It was a special moment, and a lovely evening of music. Thanks to Rosanne and John, and all at the Infinity Hall (in snowy Norfolk, CT).