Wild Mercury Sound

Hiss Golden Messenger: London King's Place, February 4, 2011

John Mulvey

Various circumstances mean I have to miss Hiss Golden Messenger’s show at Club Uncut on Wednesday, so I went to see Michael Taylor’s first UK show at King’s Place, a rather refined venue beneath The Guardian offices, last Friday.

I’ve written a fair bit about Taylor’s music here over the past year or so: to recap swiftly, he’s a folklorist currently based in the woods of North Carolina, who makes a rapturous, exquisitely-referenced kind of music that we could riskily tag as folk-soul.

The first Hiss Golden Messenger recordings were rich, full band trips, but Taylor’s first UK release (the “Bad Debt” EP on BlackMaps, out at the end of 2010) was a bunch of raw solo acoustic demos, never originally intended to be released.

So it is that Taylor seems to have inadvertently been recast as a solo singer-singwriter; a situation which may be accidental, but which rather suits him. Tonight, he was scheduled to be accompanied by his English friend, Rick Tomlinson of Voice Of The Seven Thunders (who passed on the first Hiss album, “From Country Hai East Cotton”, to me a couple of years back). Tomlinson, though, is missing due to some snow-related finger injury; word is he’s going to try and get fit for Wednesday.

Taylor, then, finds himself alone onstage in a very reverential concert room. He is playing “sadsack existential blues songs,” as he self-effacingly calls them – though I suspect it may be hard to be anything other than self-effacing in such an oppressively hushed environment. Unusual for an existentialist, too, Taylor is mighty fond of religious imagery: whether it be the opening “Lion/Lamb”, or “Bad Debt” highlights like “No Lord Is Free” and “Jesus Shot Me In The Head”.

“Bad Debt” songs, predictably enough, make up the heart of the set, though it’s worth noting that they’re not materially better suited to the solo treatment than the older songs from “Country Hai” (due to be belatedly released in the UK, in adjusted form, next month). One of Taylor’s strengths is the way his songs are so flexible that they can handle radically different versions; hopefully, a good few of the “Bad Debt” demos will be filled out on Taylor’s next record.

Another of his strengths is his voice. A couple of cover versions – Michael Hurley’s “The Revenant” (played to Hurley in Taylor’s kitchen; Hurley was unimpressed) and Tim Hardin’s “Shiloh Town” (learned, we discover, from Mark Lanegan’s take on the song) provide vague signposts to Taylor’s style. For all his faith in American vernacular, though, it’s a couple of British artists who most spring to mind – Van Morrison (perhaps in part an association with the word ‘Domino’) and, especially, John Martyn. Like Martyn, Taylor inhabits a space somewhere between folk and soul, perhaps with a good deal of jazz substituted by country.

On “Country Hai”, he throws in reggae, a delightfully lethargic iteration of funk, and all manner of other things into the mix. But that sort of expansiveness can wait for another time. For these first UK shows, it’s good to see Hiss Golden Messenger’s strong, bare bones. Try and make it along to the Slaughtered Lamb on Wednesday if you can.


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