When Hiss Golden Messenger played a show in New York City just one week after the election last year, the mood was grim. It was evident that frontman M.C. Taylor was doing his best to put on a happy face and push through, knowing how badly we all needed to hear his band play. It followed 2016’s stellar Heart Like a Levee, and it was a reminder of the uplifting power of music when you feel untethered and hopeless.
Since then, Taylor has continued to grow with Hiss Golden Messenger, this past summer putting on a memorable tribute set to Bill Withers at Newport Folk Festival with his bandmate Phil Cook (an incredible artist in his own right), and plenty of glitzy guests. It was inspired and moving, and so clear to see how much he’s been influenced by Withers’ music, with his soulful, sometimes weary voice and deep appreciation for blues. It was also just further proof that Taylor is a powerhouse who continues to show us why HGM is making some of the best and most important Southern music of the moment.
Taylor has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind about injustice and hate. He hails from North Carolina, and seems always to be straddling the line between embracing his roots and fighting their cultural subtext. His latest record, Hallelujah Anyhow, feels like a reckoning of sorts. His new songs are, much like what he’s created in the past, an encouragement to persist; to keep on keepin’ on, no matter what.
Album opener (and all around standout) “Jenny of the Roses” sounds like a party, and makes you feel renewed when you hear it. It fills you with hope, even if that feeling is fleeting, and it’s a song you’ll come back to again and again. “I’ve never been afraid of darkness/It’s just a different kind of light,” he sings. On “Lost Out in the Darkness” Taylor also manages to deliver a strong message through a heart-thumping, foot-stomping beat and a sweet melody. Rich harmonica punches it up as Taylor embraces the beauty in getting lost. “Harder Rain” adds horns alongside some of Taylor’s best singing on Hallelujah Anyhow, and “Domino (Time Will Tell)” brings one of the record’s best rock-and-roll booty-shakers (something Taylor excels at and would never sacrifice on a record).
Hallelujah Anyhow is full of whimsical grooves and Cook’s jubilant keyboard playing, even as Taylor searches for light in the darkness. And listening to it does take a bit of the weight off and make you want to move through the world just a little bit lighter.