Hiss Golden Messenger’s Haw is a shining example of contemporary American country blues. Comprising of vocalist MC Taylor and Simon Hirst, the band have been the subject of high praise, not least from David Bowie, who described their last album Poor Moon as “mystical country… an eerie yellow photograph”.
Red Rose Nantahala opens their latest work in style, with traditional country music sounds, speaking of love and deep desires for happiness. Taylor and Hirst make good use of acoustic guitars, interlaced with heavier electric guitars and drums, creating a complex, modern country sound.
Taylor’s voice has a unique, deep but tuneful voice which might have been made for country music. Sufferer (Love My Conqueror) is similar and yet different, this time complimenting Taylor’s raw voice with the graceful beauty of violins. I’ve Got A Name For the Newborn Child is very much what you’d expect of country music; upbeat and homely. The band’s love of family shines through in this track, talking about newborns and “sitting on a log on Christmas Day”, drawing upon the stereotypical ideals of American families, and the joys of domestic life.
Haw embodies a sense of yearning and nostalgia, with the album title itself being taken from the name of a river in Piedmont, North Carolina. It is sold as “an album of 11 songs about family, faith, and an ill-prophesied future”, composed of “half-remembered dreams of peace promised by our pasts”. Its soulful vibe transports to a campfire in the Deep South. Taylor is deeply influenced by religion and his faith shines through when he references biblical themes. The Serpent Is Kind (Compared To Man), for example, speaks of desire and the symbolic serpent; Busted Notes sings of a “fisher of men” and sports beautifully harmonised gospel singers, and Cheerwine Easter may well explain why Hiss Golden Messenger chose to release this album in early April.
Two short instrumental tracks, Hat Of Rain and Hark Maker (Glory Rag), also feature. The former is lushly layered with guitars and drums which seem to imitate the pounding of rain, and closes with the humid, raw sound of crickets chirping in the dark. It skilfully flows into Devotion, a track which convincingly recreates the “smoky Southern blues”. Hark Maker (Glory Rag) by contrast has an Irish folk sound, one which is often thought to have influenced country music, using what sounds like a fiddle, with a backing track of crickets joined by howling dogs. Sweet As John Hurt is a nod to fellow country singer John Hurt, born in Mississippi in the 19th century and credited with reviving American folk music. They make references to being as “Sweet as John, a simple man”, referring to Hurt’s passion for country blues and his determination stick to his roots.
Haw is a rollercoaster of an album and clearly the product of much hard work and soul-searching on the part of its creators – the end result is 11 quality tracks. Haw has the potential to reach out and convert music lovers who have never truly appreciated country music, with real southern blues and a humble accessibility that is hard to find amongst more mainstream forms of the genre. Hiss Golden Messenger have achieved something rather special.