Hiss Golden Messenger Jump For Joy Review: M.C. Taylor alchemises musical blend with defiant positivity

Hiss Golden Messenger reorientate to the bright side of the road on eleventh LP

Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor

by John Mulvey |
Published on

Hiss Golden Messenger

Jump For Joy



SINGER-SONGWRITERS are not, as a breed, averse to mythologising their creative struggles. As careers stretch on, but effective ways of monetising a music-making life diminish, a lot of energy can be expended on grappling with the muse, and the business, and sometimes both at once.

The latest album by M.C. Taylor and Hiss Golden Messenger – roughly the North Carolina band’s eleventh studio set in a productive 15 years – initially seems to conform to that stereotype. “I’m waiting/Trying to write my masterpiece,” Taylor sings on the opener, 20 Years And A Nickel, “And it’s coming out a riddle.” Jump For Joy, though, is a not an album freighted with self-pity. Rather, it’s shot through with a kind of hard-earned positivity, a radical acceptance.

The Hiss Golden Messenger catalogue is a remarkably consistent one, which tacitly rejects the whole concept of one-off masterpieces; a body of work which has evolved in subtle and consolatory ways ever since their debut, Country Hai East Cotton, in 2009. Jump For Joy, nevertheless, feels like a significant point in Taylor’s creative journey. The rootsy musical blend – the country-soul and folk rock, the accents of funk, the faintest ghosts of dub, the blood ties to Bob Dylan and Van Morrison – is more seamless than ever. The current band, too, play fantastically, a more stable line-up than previous Hiss iterations whose intuitive skills can be tracked via a clutch of excellent live albums on Bandcamp.

It’s shot through with a kind of hard-earned positivity, a radical acceptance.

What’s new, though, is how Taylor has pushed his music’s most rousing dimensions to the fore. If previous Hiss records generally maintained a fragile balance between his melodically uplifting and lyrically introspective compulsions, 2021’s Quietly Blowing It perhaps drifted a little further to the latter end of the spectrum: very much a product of lockdown anxieties, of spiritual dislocation.

Jump For Joy, in contrast, makes its mission statement explicit from the title track down. “Jump for joy/Gimme apocalypse,” Taylor sings, over a loose-but tight New Orleans groove (Sam Fribush on piano in striking Allen Toussaint form). It’s not deranged partying in the face of a world on fire, exactly, more a mature attempt to worry less, to be empowered by what a lifetime of making music has brought him.

To hear an artist, who’s sometimes been hobbled by depression, find the mitigated defiance of Feeling Eternal – “For those down and out but still devoted, I’m one of them” – is inspiring enough. But after this rich, bracing record has ended, after Taylor has recruited Levon Helm’s daughter Amy as a backing vocalist, and referenced Dickey Betts as well as the poet Mary Oliver, it’s a line borrowed from Oliver that resonates strongest. “I’m just a nail in the house of the universe,” Taylor sings on Nu-Grape, realistic enough to know his place in the greater scheme of things. Oliver’s qualifier in her original poem, Blue Iris, is omitted, but the implication is crucial: “Tiny but useful.”

Jump For Joy is out now on Merge

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