Music Review: Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon [Tompkins Square Records]

Poor Moon could have easily been lost to obscurity. After it’s initial label shuttered the album was left without production, distribution, and chief singer/ songwriter MC Taylor was left near bankruptcy. Thankfully the album was seen to be worthy of rescue by the small North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors and was set to be their second in-house release. If you snatched up one of those quickly sold-out, 500 hand-numbered vinyl editions you were in possession of 13 songs of spare,  skewed country soul.

The next step in the Poor Moon saga is Tompkins Square Records. The The California/New York label  is no stranger to uncovering and promoting great-but obscure performances and must have seen a kindered spirit in the beleaguered album as they have reissued it on CD and online, giving the album a deserved wider distribution and an opportunity to gain a wider audience.

We are all luckier for the opportunity. Durham North Carolina-based MC Taylor and Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsch, make up the core of Hiss Golden Messenger. The duo are joined by an impressive list of guests including members of D. Charles Speer and The Helix, Black Twig Pickers, Brightblack Morning Light, and member’s of their old band The Court and Spark.

Salvation is rarely as ecstatic as depicted in fiction and mythology. Dark and light work within the mundane boundaries of the everyday and M.C. Taylor’s songs well chronicles these illusive interiors. The poet William Cowper wrote “God moves in a mysterious way” in his Hymn “”Light Shining out of Darkness” and the holy ghost certainly takes enigmatic forms in Poor Moon. Whether an agent of abdication as assassin (Jesus Shot Me in the Head) or as a devoted companion in hardship’s throes (Balthazar’s Song) the forms are elusive and not always certain, like faith itself.

Taylor is a believer that question’s his belief existence (or more precisely, his ability to recognize real-world manifestations of his faith.)  He metaphorically skirts heathen’s path while keeping just within the confines of the apostle. He appears to be aman with no clear answers and takes comfort, reveling even, in the ambiguity.

“Poor Moon” is a deceptively straightforward album that surrenders it’s subtle beauty through repeated listening (preferably with headphones.)  Hiss Golden Messenger travels the road forged by the recently departed, Levon Helm and The Band by melding country, folk and soul and creating approachable music that sound timeless as well as surprising. the road is well traveled and in this case, golden.

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