New Music Monday: Hiss Golden Messenger


Hearing a song by Hiss Golden Messenger for the first time, you might think you’re listening to someone from the Greenwich Village Gaslight Cafe Bob Dylan-y scene of the early 60s. The country/jazz/rock/folk sound of the band comes from a collaboration of singer/songwriter M.C. Taylor and recording engineer Scott Hirsch. Like one of the subjects of my last music review, Taylor comes from a punk/metal background. Which to me, says a lot about what screaming as opposed to singing does to a person… but that’s another can of worms to be sorted and explored another time.

HGM has released five full albums. Taylor’s growth and evolution as a musician and songwriter is obvious in each. His newest album, “Lateness of Dancers,” shows more of a lean toward folk rock sound, only slightly straying from a country bluegrass-y sound. His evolution also shows a progression from instrumental tracks to more catchy, sing-along songs.

HGM has undergone several changes on band members; it’s clear that this project is most owned by Taylor. A California native who relocated to Durham, North Carolina in 2007, Taylor has made himself more than at home here. He holds a graduate degree in southern folklore from UNC Chapel Hill and it seems to me that he is greatly inspired by the mysterious south when it comes to songwriting. His slight accent is also telling of his adoption of the south.

From the title track of his EP, Southern Grammar, released in February of this year:

Teacher, come teach me
Preacher, come reach me
There’s another way to be happy
And I’ve been looking for the same thing

I love that Taylor has an appreciation for the south even though he’s from what some of us consider to be the far-more-exciting west coast. Maybe that’s what it takes to understand what a special, distinct, historically rich place we live in: to look at it from a distance. He even has a song called “Cheerwine Easter.” He knows, you guys, he knows.

I wish I could tell you that I discovered Hiss Golden Messenger from one of his many past local(ish) shows at the Apothecary in Asheville, or the Haw River Ballroom in Saxaphaw, or the Milestone Club in Charlotte. The truth is I found him through one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Ben Howard. I was listening to an interview when I heard Ben say in his breezy British accent: “I’ve been listening a lot to band called Hiss Golden Messenger out of North Carolina.” I promptly freaked out that Ben mentioned my home state and looked up this band he spoke so wonderfully of.

Ben is so fond of the band that he asked HGM to accompany him on his tour last fall. Being the Ben fan I am, I drove to Atlanta and got to see HGM as his opener in what I can honestly say was one of my favorite opening acts to date.

Looking at him, I thought Taylor might be a serious, closed-off type of performer, but the exact opposite turned out to be true. Taylor and his band had a contagiously enthusiastic energy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band that seemed so genuinely happy to be playing their music. I don’t think a single one of them stopped smiling once, despite the solemn meaningfulness of many of Taylor’s lyrics, which is another lesson in not judging books by their covers.

You can listen to more by Hiss Golden Messenger on Spotify and keep updated on local shows via Facebook.

To read more reviews from Molly, click here and read her blog!