EP Review- Hiss Golden Messenger “Southern Grammar”

Southern Grammar EP Cover

Hiss Golden Messenger Southern Grammar EP

Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor seems to shy away from the spotlight, but it’s been difficult to avoid of late. With three transcendent LPs under his belt in less than four years, Taylor has established himself as a modern auteur of indie-country-soul. The lyrics and delivery of his songs speak to a life that has been fully lived, suffered, breathed, and learned. This dude did the required reading, and then some. Combine that with the arrangements and musicianship of indie-rock auteurs Phil and Brad Cook (Megafaun), Alexandra Sauser-Monnig (Mountain Man), long term collaborator Scott Hirsch, and electric guitar god William Tyler, as well as nearly every other decent picker, drummer, horn player, and key player in the Triangle area of North Carolina, and it’s hard to see Hiss Golden Messenger’s ever-expanding library as anything less than a monumental statement for the independent folkish music realm. Previously dominated by the overzealous, wide-eyed likes of The Avetts and Mumford sound-alikes, Hiss Golden Messenger has arrived in a big way.

Until fairly recently, however Taylor was known to make most live appearances a solo sit-down affair. While the albums rocked with rhythmic bass lines and domineering guitar riffs, the shows were more tender, a guest here or there, but mostly focused on the lyricism and storytelling of Taylor’s gospel. Those days are gone, however, and Taylor, now signed by Indie clout Merge Records, is touring with a full band in tow, bringing the lush glory of his songs in full arrangement to hungry audiences worldwide.

The opening track of 2015’s Southern Grammar EP is a fantastic live radio rendition of the self-same track off the 2014 LP Lateness of Dancers, and damn does it shine with the live energy of a band that knows exactly what they are doing. In contrast to the album track, the live version features a fantastic saxophone performance from multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas, and some dynamic gospel singing that sends shivers down the spine. The other two tracks, both recorded with Dancers, but left out of the final tracklist, showcase a reverent side of Taylor’s repertoire that edges on religious, but in a way that makes one believe that salvation is only a possibility through suffering, with both the understanding and acceptance of that necessity. In “He Wrote the Book”, Taylor gives credence to John the Baptist. Then, in the six- minute meander of “Brother, Do You Know the Road?”, background singers echo “Yes, my brother I know the road” (also a crowd participation line during the live performance), and Taylor laments the repeated lyrical thesis of this release and the self-proclaimed
“HGM philosophy” :

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

Damn, don’t we all Mike, or at least we do now that you’ve given us that wisdom.


-Jeb Brinkley