Sometimes things begin with a phone call, or a name that you’ve heard on a few separate occasions, or something half-remembered you may have scribbled in a notebook. At least that’s how it began for me with Hiss Golden Messenger, the project of one M.C. Taylor, whose tunes came to hypnotize me this past winter.

I didn’t know much about Taylor, and I’ve tried to keep it that way. His songs were so beautiful and mysterious I didn’t want to know anything else about them. Like John Fahey’s Blind Joe Death, they seemed to come from a different era, pulled out of the dust. As it turns out, Taylor is something of a folklorist, himself, and Fahey hovers over him just like he’s transfixed anyone who’s interested in the American musical past.

Taylor’s recordings from his 2009 album Bad Debt are dark and distant, like a ghost from Robert Johnson’s single microphone Dallas hotel room recording session in 1937. Just a voice and an acoustic guitar—his right strumming hand coming up hard on the offbeat like the snare drum in a country-rock song. Stories of sin and redemption—or, in Taylor’s own words, stories “about my God: That is, whether I have one, and whether there is a place for me in this world.”

Bad Debt was originally released on the tiny Black Maps label. The more-produced Poor Moon, featuring a few of the same songs with fuller arrangements, was issued last year on the equally obscure Bachelors of Paradise label. Poor Moon is set for a larger release by Tompkins Square on April 17th, a label that specializes mostly in archival recordings and instrumental music, though they too seem to have also fallen under the spell of Taylor’s songs.

On the war story, “Super Blue (Two Days Clean),” Taylor tells of going on a bender in Birmingham: “Two days clean I’m feeling mean so let’s go out tonight/Super-blue crescent moon gonna lose my mind, oh no.” On “Straw Man Red Sun River Gold,” which ostensibly to take place in a Civil War-era America, Taylor is yet another lost traveler: “I left home when I was just a kid/ To be the gallant rider that my father was.” Yet the road is long. “Just outside this town, oh lord, I had a breakdown,” he later confides. “That’s the closest that I’ve come to going home”— and by “home,”  here, he likely means heaven–or hell.

These are melodies and stories straight out of the same Appalachian hills that gave birth to Gaither Carlton and Clarence Ashley. Find me something more American than that. words/ d inman

MP3: Hiss Golden Messenger :: Super Blue (To Days Clean)
Hiss Golden Messenger :: Straw Man Red Sun River Gold

10 Responses to “Hiss Golden Messenger”

  1. Thank you for your generosity and enthusiasm. Though we don’t ramble out too much, we do communicate with the outside world at

  2. Poor Moon was the greatest album of 2011. HGM is a treasure. One more reason not to kill everybody in sight.

  3. Thanks for your kind words about “Poor Moon.” You can purchase the vinyl LP here:


  4. HGM is great! Cool to see aquarium drunkard give them the props they deserve.

  5. Thank you for introducing me to HGM. I had no idea about M. C. Taylor. Bewitched!

  6. Magical. Great for us Brits to hear such fine, fine American music. I shall attempt to spread the word…

  7. […] who seem to find their true voice a little further down the weathered track (Jonathan Wilson and Hiss Golden Messenger are two others who come to mind). However the hell you end up discovering Aaron Embry, it’s hard […]

  8. […] of the world. In 2011, I might have also written him a fan letter, because I was obsessed with Poor Moon, a record he and fellow Ex-Ignota bandmate Scott Hirsch had made with their current band, Hiss […]

  9. […] started with the solitary winter blues of 2010’s Bad Debt and more full-flowered folk-rock of Poor Moon in 2011. The three albums cover a similar surface area, a haunted little patch of earth that I’m […]

  10. […] Sony warehouse burned. Its songs found new lives on subsequent Hiss Golden Messenger LPs, 2012’s Poor Moon and 2013’s Haw, but the album remained the skeleton key in Taylor’s discography, marking the […]

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