Wild Mercury Sound

Hiss Golden Messenger: "Root Work"

John Mulvey

A nice email last week from Michael Taylor, alerting me to the existence of his band, Hiss Golden Messenger, and their new live album, “Root Work”: “Touchstones, as I see them, would be Traffic's ‘Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys’, possibly some live Dead, some vintage-era Tubby/Jammy,” writes Michael, enticingly.

As it happens, I was already aware of Hiss Golden Messenger. Rick Tomlinson from Voice Of The Seven Thunders forwarded me last year’s “Country Hai East Cotton” which I enjoyed very much and then subsequently, shamefully, neglected to blog about.

Taylor, it transpires, used to figure in The Court & Spark and has moved in the past year or two from San Francisco to North Carolina, where he works as a folklorist. If there’s one contemporary band that I’d pair up Hiss Golden Messenger with, it’d be another crew of ex-San Franciscans, Brightblack Morning Light. Taylor is, perhaps, more of an orthodox songwriter than Nabob and Rabob, and there’s a baroque craftsmanship to a bunch of his songs that reminds me of the Laurel Canyon sound (and to a recent update of the same, PG Six’s lovely “Slightly Sorry”).

But on “Root Work”, he stretches them out to incorporate more heft and groove than on “Country Hai East Cotton”. The really terrific “Resurrection Blues”, for instance, is a hot and sticky progression, propped up by deep horn charts, that gradually loosen up and shoot off at tangents as the song goes on, and the lead guitarist (Taylor? I don’t know) steps up for a high, clanging solo. Pretty hooked on this one.

The whole set’s good, though, from the opening field recordings of birdsong, into the New Weird American reggae of “John Has Gone To The Light” (one of my colleagues suggests an affinity here with Chris Squire’s “Fish Out Of Water”, which I don’t know), through strong and soulful songs like “Isobel” and the countryish skank of “O Nathaniel”: I’m sure there’s an obvious analogue for the latter, but I can’t locate it this morning for the life of me.

And equally, Michael Taylor’s voice really reminds me of something, which again I can’t place. Apologies for the vagueness, but please have a listen to Hiss Golden Messenger’s Myspace, and see if you can help. Thanks!


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