Photo by Harlan Campbell
Some of the best performances don’t happen on a stage. Some of them don’t happen in a recording studio either. Some of the best performances happen alone, at home, with just an acoustic guitar for back-up, and, if you’re lucky, a tape recorder. Luckily, singer-songwriter M.C. Taylor had one back in 2010 when he sat down in his kitchen in rural North Carolina to play some songs that were rollin’ around in his head.
Taylor, along with multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer Scott Hirsch, go by the name Hiss Golden Messenger. Together they create a sound that mixes laid-back rock and folk with a distinct 70s vibe. Hiss Golden Messenger’s debut Country Hai East Cotton came out in 2009. Then in 2010, inspired by the still-free-falling-and-convulsing world economy, Taylor picked up that tape recorder and recorded some tunes in his kitchen. The recordings are raw and incredibly intimate. When you hear them, you get the the same kind of chills you get when you listen to Springsteen’s Nebraska–another great home recording. Taylor put the songs onto a record he called Bad Debt, and the album saw international release via the U.K. label Black Maps. But in an unfortunate, but poetic turn, given the nature of album’s subject matter, the CD version of the record was destroyed when a London warehouse caught fire during that city’s riots in 2011.
Hiss Golden Messenger would go on to put out two more records, including 2012’s Poor Moon, and this year’s Haw. But on January 14, Bad Debt will finally see a reissue here in the states. The album’s closer, “Drum,” has made the music blog rounds, and it’s easy to hear why. From the first second, you can hear the sound of the room, caught live onto cassette. You can hear Taylor’s shoe tapping out the beat on the floor. It puts you right in the kitchen with him. Taylor’s voice is arresting, filled with world-weariness, but also hope and tenderness. It’ll give you chills.