Friday, March 29, 2013

Album Review: "Haw" by Hiss Golden Messenger

Haw is released on April 2, 2013 on Paradise of
M.C. Taylor is a songwriter whose talents have flourished with each subsequent release under the moniker of Hiss Golden Messenger.  Taylor has been eloquently intertwining love, life and faith with a unique blend of roots driven country/folk for years now, but his 2011 release Poor Moon garnered heavy acclaim.  Poor Moon made waves in the North Carolina music scene, the unparalleled sense of honesty and individuality even led to attention from publications like Paste and Washington Post.

As Hiss Golden Messenger gains more attention, the defining characteristics of Taylor's music seems all the more clear.  Haw is named for the landmark Cape Fear tributary and reeks of Southern sentiments, it's filled with passion, devotion and rustic images that resonate not only with the native southern but with anyone that's ever battled with their inner-most thoughts or pondered upon days that were and days that might have been.

Haw opens with a rattling statement of self-identity, "Red Rose Nantahala" kicks off with Taylor's soulful croon begging to let him be the one he wants as he proceeds to do just that.  The bouncing country rhythms give way to powerful lyricism lined with forked-tongued detractors and a powerful plea to the lord for happiness.  M.C. Taylor's sense of character and purpose is powerful but most importantly it's a characteristic that defines this brilliant album.  Haw is a mystical blend of gospel, country and folk that makes for an instantly gratifying listen.  Each track feels like a vital piece of the puzzle, from the flooring emotion displayed in "Devotion" to the smooth-jazz stylings that can be found in "Cheerwine Easter," the listener is taken on an adventure through Taylor's ethos that feels as relatable as it is personal.

Haw glides along with the finesse that only a seasoned songwriter could possess and guest spots from talented acts like William Tyler, Phil Cook and Mark Paulson (Bowerbirds) are peppered throughout the album to add to the vast array of influences found on the album.  Saxophones, fiddles and steel guitars help make this the most expansive project in Taylor's storied career, each track is contained within it's own world of lush instrumentation or bare-boned aestheticism.  The best part of Haw is just how incredibly it all flows together, tracks vary from  rambling foot-stomping anthems to slow-brooding country ballads with ease.  Taylor welcomes the hard times and rain in "The Serpent Is Kind (Compared To Man)," a track that's filled with the powerful imagery that makes this album such a special piece of work.  The listener can picture Taylor working on "the same land [his] father tread" as he heeds advice from his father on seeing the sun through the rain; these very snippets create the beautiful world that contains the songs the make up Haw.

The constant attention to detail helps make each listen through a new experience.  Certain nuances you missed the first few times around will start rearing their heads, making you step back and realize how special an album like this truly is.  As the album's most ambitious track, "Cheerwine Easter" draws to a close the distant bark of a dog seamlessly flows into "Hark Maker (Glory Rag)."  While "Hark Maker" is a track that clocks in at just under two minutes, it's one of the standout moments of the album.  The track is a driving fiddle piece on its surface, but a constant buzzing of insects creeps in and it's hard to not feel like you're relaxing on your front porch on a cool summer night.  Haw transports you to a place and time, and that's a special connection that not all musicians are able to make.  However, Taylor seems to do it with ease as he packs his years of wisdom into a 42-minute album that flies by far too fast.  It's selfish to want more, but it's too damn good not to.

Haw sets the bar high for 2013, it's hard to think of an album this year that's been as well defined.  This new batch of songs finds Hiss Golden Messenger foraying into new territories, bolder dynamics and more vibrant imagery make for one of the best North Carolina albums in recent memory.  Haw is a powerful statement from M.C Taylor that proves Poor Moon wasn't a fluke, he's improving with each release and one can only imagine the sounds to come from our golden messenger in the future.

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