To date, it's a safe bet that more people have heard the narrative surrounding Hiss Golden Messenger's Bad Debt, than have actually heard it: In 2010, HGM's M.C. Taylor had returned to North Carolina from San Francisco, disillusioned with the music business and discontent with his life. He recorded these songs -- just his voice and an acoustic guitar -- onto a standard cassette recorder at his kitchen table as his year-old son slept in an adjoining room. It was pressed onto CD and LP in very limited editions when the PIAS warehouse fire destroyed all remaining copies. Six of the album's songs were re-recorded on the subsequent HGM albums Poor Moon and HAW. Bad Debt is an unflinching examination of faith, the self, doubt, rescue, redemption, parenthood, and coming to terms with the intertwining worlds of flesh and spirit. Throughout, one can hear Taylor's feet on the floor, him shuffling in his chair, hitting an unintended note on the guitar, a hint of reverb on his vocal, and a constant yet subtle tape hiss; these all serve to underscore the intimacy and power in these songs as they wrestle with light and darkness. The original stripped-down versions of "The Serpent Is Kind (Compared to Man)," "Jesus Shot Me in the Head," "Super Blue (Two Days Clean)," "Balthazar's Song," and O Little Light," are as beautiful as their later incarnations, but more searing and immediate here. "Straw Men Red Sun River Gold" is a country song that offers a profound autobiography: it poetically details innocence, its loss, dissolution, and the road to restoration. The country-blues of "Call Him Daylight" is a haunting folk-blues that offers both prophecy and personal revelation in very human terms. Despite the weighty topics, Taylor displays an unwavering sense of calm and centeredness in his delivery, adding an egoless, steadfast sense of conviction. His embrace of the Christian faith is never self-righteous, which makes his songs easy, compelling statements of personal spirituality. Bad Debt is a quiet, stirring, utterly arresting collection by one of our best songwriter/poets.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek