Listen: Way Back in the Way Back (Hiss Golden Messenger)

25 June 2021 | James Porteous | Clipper Media

Way Back In The Way Back (MC Taylor)

You can call me the wheel
All I wanna do is roll it
From Tucson to Tulsa
This long-distance love, babe
What a lonely thing to call it

Don’t be afraid
We’ll be fine in the morning
Food on the table
A body that’s able
We’ll be fine in the morning

Up with the mountains
Down with the system
That keeps us in chains
Hearing our whispering
Baby blue sky
Building a prison
Way back in the way back

The tulips are busted
The peace sign is broken
What is forgiveness?
What is atonement?
I wanna go home

Stood out in the rain
Like some rock and roll scarecrow
Both hands are broken
Oh, the prophet has spoken
He can’t deny that I’m lonesome

Up with the mountains
Down with the system
That keeps us in chains
Hearing our whispering
Baby blue sky
Building a prison
Way back in the way back

23 June 2021 | Mike Davies | Folk Radio

Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It

Merge Records – 25 June 2021

‘Quietly Blowing It’ is described by  Hiss Golden Messenger frontman M.C. Taylor as a retrospective of the past five years of his life. Painted in impressionistic hues and recorded with the band (among them Buddy Miller, Scott Hirsch and Josh Kaufman) in a studio during lockdown, the album begins its journey through themes of growing up, loss and responsibility with Way Back In The Way Back.

The song’s Southern country-soul carries a note of hope and defiance as he sings, “We’ll be fine in the morning/Up with the mountains/Down with the system/That keeps us in chains”. A countrified slow lope with a Johnny Cash-styled beat and added harmonica, The Great Mystifier is basically about looking for a good love because “when it’s right/It’s worth the pain”. The mood shifts to a slow burn bluesy funk with Mighty Dollar that serves to remind, should you have forgotten that “The poor man loses and the rich man wins”, though the narrator here “Can’t get enough/Of that mighty dollar”, not all, just a little.

Styles shift again for the lazing slow soul title track with its Al Green echoes, a number that starts out addressing a broken relationship and ends speaking of a broken nation (“The shape of things/Don’t look so good/On the TV there’s a riot goin’ on”) and how healing means “You gotta let someone in/That’s all that’ll save you”.

He stays in a soulful groove for the falsetto-styled It Will If We Let It, a song about letting your feelings show (“Do the words have no meaning? They will if we let ’em/But first we gotta say ’em”). The track ebbs away to be replaced by the Southern blues ‘n’ soul of Hardlytown, another call to “be good to each other” in the face of troubles. The song has faint hints of The Band while the line “people get ready” surely nods to Curtis Mayfield on a theme that again speaks of social inequalities (“He never worked a day/He never worked an hour/Now they want to make him king/While you’re breaking your back like a slave”).

But there’s a beacon of hope that shines here and throughout the album because, as he says in the warm, gospel-infused If It Comes In The Morning, a co-write with Anaïs Mitchell, “there’s a new day coming” and we must “count up our losses/Lay a rose at the crosses/And hope hope is contagious”.

Riding a vague bossa nova rhythm, Glory Strums (Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner), another number about trying to rise above the odds recalls 70s Jim Webb. Meanwhile, the equally laid back and mellow sax-stained Painting Houses, written with Gregory Alan Isakov,  finds him “Down on Colfax again/Lights all shining on the mess we made”, down but not out (“We’re broke but we’re breathing”), once more looking for the light “They say a new day’s coming, I don’t doubt it” and while he may be “stuck on the roof, still painting houses”, the music is there “As living proof the fire ain’t out yet”.

Anchored by lonely piano, sparsely strummed guitar and a south of the border feel, the brief, semi-spoken Angels In The Headlights  (“The stakes are growing longer/Did you play for keeps, kid?/Because you gotta?”) sets up the final track. Channelling the ringing and rousing side of Jackson Browne on Sanctuary that, referencing John Prine (“Handsome Johnny”), balances social and economic inequality (“when you try to get real/They break you on the wheel”), the lyrics juxtaposing salvation and despair and finding catharsis,  redemption and sanctuary in music as he declares “Can’t get out of my own mind/But I know how to sing about it”. And he sings about it magnificently.

Beautifully played with melodies and hooks that take up instant lodgings in the brain and lyrics that cut to the heart and soul, this may be his best yet. If this is blowing it, we should all have such failures.

Review: Hiss Golden Messenger delivers anthems for our times


Hiss Golden Messenger, “Quietly Blowing It” (Merge)

M.C. Taylor sounds gorgeously despondent at the outset of his band’s new album, a follow-up to his brilliant 2019 record, “Terms of Surrender.” But before he’s done he has charted his way, musically and lyrically, to a better place.

The result is “Quietly Blowing It,” a poignant, often soaring set of anthems for our times.

Hiss Golden Messenger’s previous album set a high standard, and the pandemic hit while it was still on a victory lap. So Taylor, the band’s lead singer and mastermind, holed up in his house in Durham, N.C., and wrote songs. Really good songs. By the time he brought them to his fellow band members, he had the makings of a stunning, richly-textured follow-up about navigating through dark times.

None of it comes off as wallowing because the music is simply gorgeous. The best songs blend piano and guitar-based melody behind Taylor’s smoothly soulful singing. Songs like “Hardlytown” and “If It Comes in the Morning” are majestic in different ways, with a sound that builds on Taylor’s earlier work but tacks further into rhythm and blues in ways that separate it from the Americana pack.

Lyrically, Taylor blends the personal and the political in an understated way. The only misstep, a not-especially-original song called “Mighty Dollar,” can be excused as something Taylor felt he had to include.

By the time he gets to the closer, “Sanctuary,” Taylor has figured something out.

“Feeling bad, feeling blue, can’t get of my own mind,” he sings as the song opens in a deeply groovy piano-and-bass bop. “But I know how to sing about it.”

The song feels celebratory but not unrealistic. There’s acknowledgement that this has all been hard. But the safe place for Taylor, and for listeners who travel with him on the journey, has always been the music.


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