Hiss Golden Messenger

Southern Grammar

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This three-track set follows Hiss Golden Messenger's stellar Lateness of Dancers album by five months. Featuring many of the same players that helped that record make so many year-end lists, these three cuts include the title track, which was cut live at WXPN studio. It boasts the same basic, choogling, J.J. Cale vibe of the original, but it's much rawer, its immediacy underscored by a smoldering blues-gospel vibe courtesy of Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and drummer Matt McCaughan adding a soulful backing chorus under M.C Taylor's lead. Add a twinned slide guitar and saxophone head with a punchy Rhodes, funky snare shuffle, and earthy bassline, and it becomes a stunner. "Brother Do You Know the Road" is an older song that, until this record, had never found a home. Its slow, snaky dobro, brooding Wurlitzer, and fat bassline offered in a forlorn 4/4, frame Taylor's world-weary voice with support from his backing singers in call and response, singing the same line over and again hypnotically. "He Wrote the Book" is a holdover from the Lateness of Dancers sessions. Once more, Taylor uses gospel from the country side of the aisle. It is driven by a reverbed snare and kick drum, and an acoustic piano as the primary instruments. Eventually, a souled-out wah-wah guitar, doubled saxophones, and Sauser-Monnig's backing vocals shift it toward rural Southern soul. The last two tracks share the lyric "And though the storm’s passed over/And the sun is in its place/It’s been a long time/And the rain, how I know it." Though presented in very different contexts, its gutbucket truth rings out in both cases. It's as if Taylor -- who claims he's never done this kind of borrowing from himself before -- is articulating a metaphor that guides him through good times and bad. These three tunes add dimension to the music that appeared on Lateness of Dancers. They offer more proof that Hiss Golden Messenger may mine familiar, even classic musical terrain, but they do so in their own idiosyncratic and profound way and on their own terms. As welcome as this is, it's still just a taste that makes waiting for a new full-length that much harder.

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