The Lineup

Hiss Golden Messenger

Durham, N.C.

When it comes to hard-to-pin artists with pseudonyms in three parts, you can officially stack Hiss Golden Messenger on the same shelf as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Kleenex Boy Wonder, Iron & Wine, and East River Pipe. MC Taylor has released a handful of recordings under the name Hiss Golden Messenger, ranging from the solo and stark Bad Debt to last fall’s Poor Moon (released by Chapel Hill label Paradise of Bachelors and re-released by Tompkins Square). Each has been more multicolored than the last. Bad Debt aside, Taylor works with a rotating collection of musicians, including Scott Hirsh, Taylor’s former band mate in San Francisco-based The Court & the Spark, an outfit that tempered its dreamscape tendencies with more straightforward Neil Young-isms.

Taylor’s sound revolves as much as the players, from classic rock to reggae to country-soul to pure atmosphere. That tends to give those writing about it challenges, if not fits. Before they pull muscles trying to tell you what Hiss Golden Messenger is, most reviewers make a big show of declaring what it isn’t: traditional country or folk rock. Then the namedrop parade starts—Fairport Convention, Traffic, Lindsey Buckingham, William Butler Yeats, King Tubby, Duane Allman, Steely Dan, Curtis Mayfield (which, of course, automatically leads to Lambchop).

Taylor did, however, travel east to enroll in the folklore program at the University of North Carolina, eventually settling in Pittsboro, so it’s not as if he’s afraid of rootsy touches. It’s just that the pedal steel and fiddle and mandolin are accompanied by strings and horns blasts and a somewhat unexpected lushness. It’s tempting to drop Greil Marcus’s “old” adjective and label Taylor’s work “weird Americana,” but that suggests an oddness for oddness’s sake, and that’s not the case. The best summation comes courtesy of Matthew Fluharty, at The Art Of The Rural: “The singer stands where so many of us stand: in between tradition and change, the past and future, looking for a foothold.” —Rick Cornell