Nick Bollinger hitches a ride with a set of American roadsongs from Hiss Golden Messenger.
The music that’s come to be known as Americana has a particular attraction for songwriters with literary leanings. Those timeless country chords seem to conjure the type of small American town where a certain kind of gritty short story might take place. It’s certainly a genre that’s suited to a songwriter like M.C. Taylor.
Taylor is based in North Carolina and began releasing albums about eight years ago under the banner Hiss Golden Messenger. The latest is full of songs in which the places have names and the narrators have regrets.
Taylor has a serviceable voice and tunes that feel familiar without being derivative, but his lyrics are his greatest strength. They have the feel of objects that have been chipped away it until they have found their final shape. I can imagine him writing full profiles of his characters and scene breakdowns for each verse, then brutally editing until all that’s left are a few terse lines.
“Lucinda in the evening/long-legged girl with a country way of speaking/Red apple moon/Oh, river I’m gone” (‘As The Crow Flies’)
A musician with a young family whose career demands he spend time on the road, his protagonists are frequently on the verge of departure, or else they have already gone, and the place names that pepper his songs are just road signs flashing past on another uneasy road trip.
At times that unease almost turns to self-hate. In ‘Like A Mirror Loves A Hammer’ Taylor creates the perfectly ominous setting for his brooding thoughts: a shuddering guitar groove, dark and unrelenting, punctuated by low and swampy horns. At other times he strikes a bright, almost-pop feel, thanks in part to Bradley Cook, from the band Megafaun, who co-produced the album with Taylor and whose multi-instrumental skills account for much of the colour.
Heart Like A Levee has more hooks, more musical light and shade, than just about any roots rock record I’ve heard this year. In the end it’s M.C. Taylor’s literate, hard-boiled lyrics, more than the music, which defines this album as Americana - that and a few of those timeless country chords.
Songs featured: Biloxi, Cracked Windshield, As The Crow Flies, Like A Mirror Loves A Hammer, Tell Her I’m Just Dancing, Heart Like A Levee.
Heart Like A Levee is available on Yep Roc Records.