Hiss Golden Messenger’s music reflects faith in an open-armed notion of divinity. This is seen most clearly in a similarly open idea of rock’n’roll rooted in the American South’s soil and spirit, and deepened during Hiss lynchpin MC Taylor’s wonderstruck wanderings across America. But when all that was shut down by the pandemic, their ninth full album, 2021’s Quietly Blowing It, instead absorbed Taylor’s bewilderment, and his country’s chaos. “People often look at Hiss songs like beacons of hope,” he considers, “but those [Covid] years of uncertainty tested my capacity for it. Mentally I went about as low as I could go, and on Quietly Blowing It I can hear how low I was. In its tempo and type of self-reflection, it feels like the last record I can make like that.”
The Sounding Joy: Hiss Golden Messenger Meets Revelators On South Robinson Street (2021), with Spacebomb/Bonny Light Horseman bassist Cameron Ralston, was what Taylor dubs an “instrumental, grooving, cacophonous, free jazz record”, shaking off both his previous album’s heaviness and rigid musical boundaries. Going back on the road with Hiss in 2022, and feeling his returning audience’s hunger, he then began writing songs around a teenage alter ego, Michael Crow, reaching back as he did so to his original musical fervour.
Jump For Joy is the loose-limbed, exuberant result, a Hiss Golden Messenger record designed to close the gap with his recent slew of live albums, and let us dance our troubles away. It’s hardly Hiss Goes Disco, but Americana, too often neutered into an almost literary form, here resumes its bodily origins. Gospel, funk and soul, Memphis and New Orleans flit through highly personal Southern rock, played by the live Hiss band with easy generosity. Little Feat are enduring Taylor influences, exemplars, he says, in meshing “ferocious groove and writing that is smart and deep”. So this music rolls: guitars arrive on the title track like a helping hand, and slide-guitar on “The Wondering” slyly slips in with a wink.
“God, I’m only 16,” Taylor murmurs on “Jesus I’m Bored”, over the drums’ railway chug, heading steadily out of his teenage town. “I want to be something/Can you give me a sign?” The autobiography continues with “The Wondering”, as Michael Crow housebreaks and hunts experience, and Hammond organ shimmers. Here and in “Feeling Eternal”, “I Saw The New Day In The World” and the blinding light and cleansing rock of “Sunset On The Faders”’, there’s a sense of daily, cosmic wonder which the singer is innately part of.
“Woke up this morning, my God I’m feeling happy,” he declares like an anti-blues singer during “Shinbone”’s bright, blissful funk, further enquiring: “Taking chances… If you lose it all, can you love what’s left?” Continuing on from the Revelators album, Taylor is laying down weighty cares, and falling back into the flow of life. Songwriting itself is central to this change, as “The Wondering” pines for the simplest truth: “Let me write just one verse that doesn’t feel like persuasion…”
Taylor has observed a similar shift in perspective in peers across numerous spheres since the pandemic, a recalibrating of what really matters akin to a near-death experience. “I’ve spent decades choosing to put music first, missing weddings and my beloved grandmother’s funeral because I was on the road,” he states. “I’m just not going to be doing that any more.” Hiss Golden Messenger albums have always wrestled with faith, struggling to glean God in Taylor’s North Carolina home. Now one of his most lovely, nakedly autobiographical songs, “My Old Friends”, finds “something to believe in” in longtime compadres, as he returns from his troubadour trials to declare his love. The bass ambles, and slide and acoustic guitars make gossamer harmony, forging a melody that might have fallen off Harvest, or a Cat Stevens record. “My transgressions/May I forgive, the way I’ve been forgiven,” Taylor incidentally prays, pausing lyrically afterwards, as if waiting to be answered.
Jump For Joy is a panoramic, magical reverie on the sometimes hard gift of a life in American music. “I wanted to trace my life as a devotee of music, and as a wandering soul,” Taylor agrees. “And I am finding a lot of solace in this idea that I’m living the life that I dreamed about as a teenager – being footloose in America, and able to create poetic things.” In catastrophe’s slipstream, Hiss Golden Messenger have decided to count their blessings.