Through soulful folk-rock, heartfelt storytelling, and a plea for unified love, Hiss Golden Messenger gave Boston a deeply personal show

12/6/17 – The Sinclair

Less than a year after their last album, Heart Like a Levee (2016), came out, MC Taylor’s soulful country-folk outfit, Hiss Golden Messenger has released a new record entitled Hallelujah Anyhow (2017). It’s a soul-filled jaunt jumping with heartfelt poetry about the contradictions surrounding hope in today’s America. It was recorded quickly with Taylor and his band gathered together in a single studio room. In the press release, Taylor mentions that “love is the only way out.” On December sixth, those words resonated through Hiss Golden Messenger’s twenty-four song set at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA.

“Everybody in the whole damn place has gotta have a good time,” sang Taylor in his soaring rasp as he and his band—keys, drums, percussion, two to three guitars, a backup singer, and bass—played the first song, “Biloxi,” off their critically acclaimed record Heart Like a Levee. Taylor wore slim-fit blue jeans, black cowboy boots, and a faded green military shirt. He looked like a peaceful soldier.

From there, HGM moved into the opener of their newest record, Hallelujah Anyhow. The song is called “Jenny of the Roses,” which includes the most prominent line on the album; “I’ve never been afraid of darkness / It’s just a different kind of light.” This line summarizes the contradiction, the hope, and the poetics behind Taylor’s belief that positivity is required for progress. “We’re gonna treat this like a Saturday night,” he exclaimed as he broke into “Saturday’s Song.” Darren Jessee (Ben Folds Five) gave a simple, steady drumbeat, while Phil Cook (Megafaun)—Taylor’s “kindred spirit”—played a sparkling harmony on the keys. Taylor stood tall with bent knees, like a blue heron, passionately strumming his acoustic guitar.

Taylor introduced the next song,“Gulfport You’ve Been on My Mind.” as “gospel for the 21st century.” The three-part harmony between Taylor, Cook, and a temporary band member named Skylar Gudasz, hit hard: “Yes I’ve seen darker things than night / So give me the light.” Cook put a harmonica to his mouth and produced a gentle wail. Another repeated phrase, another harmony: “can we go walking two by two / with no air between us.”

After the band covered more material from multiple HGM records, Taylor shared a story. “I had crashed out of music,” he said. “But I was writing some songs for a friend and it changed my life into something else. This song is a testament for chasing down something that feels pure.” Alone under the spotlight, armed with an acoustic guitar, Taylor meditatively sang, “one morning, one morning / the world was in motion,” as if describing the exact moment he embarked on the journey that became Hiss Golden Messenger.

The way MC Taylor and Phil Cook shared their stories with the audience during this concert was impressive and personalized the performance. When Taylor speaks, you get the impression that he means every word of it, that this is his everything. It feels pure.

The next tune, “Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer,” shows this band’s deep understanding of folk, blues, and soul music. It’s an inventive, searing experiment that stands out from the rest of HGM’s blustery country-rock catalogue. “This guitarist rips!” shouted a blonde man behind me. Everyone around us seemed to nod in approval, while the gentleman next to me was bent over the railing in attempt to shush the bar crowd below.

Throughout the show, silver-haired members of the crowd yelled for HGM’s cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Woman” off of the 2016 tribute record, Day of the Dead. Taylor compromised with the crowd by transforming his song, “Lucia,” into another of the Dead’s famed tunes, “Franklin’s Tower.” Everyone cheered and gyrated in place.

It was evident that Taylor views music as the ultimate coping mechanism. When they were beckoned back on stage for an encore after their deep Delta blues jam, “Southern Grammar,” HGM changed it up yet again. Reminiscing on the genius of a major influence, Pops Staples, Phil Cook led the audience in a rendition of Staples’ song, “Friendship.” The crowd unified and sang the chorus: “We’ve got friendship, the kind that lasts a lifetime / Through all the hardship, you’s a friend of mine.”

The band played an incredibly long show—two hours and sixteen minutes. They played songs from seven of their eight albums. It was like watching a younger, more southern Springsteen complete one of his legendary four hour sets. MC Taylor’s songs say, “We’re on our way.” It’s something people need to hear when faced with anxious times and overwhelming doubt. Hiss Golden Messenger helps us to keep moving forward, to keep chasing down anything that feels pure, while confronting the tensions that build along the way.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.