At the core of traditional American music lies the value of the communal. Whilst the music has evolved, developed and woven its way into every imaginable corner, it is this unifying and communal ideal which has persisted throughout bluegrass, country, gospel and all the other genres helpfully encompassed within the broad category of American roots and traditional music. On a cold, Sunday evening in Leeds, it was this warm attitude of inclusivity and community which prevailed at the Brudenell courtesy of Hiss Golden Messenger.
Opening the show was Megafaun member, part time Justin Vernon collaborator and current Hiss Golden Messenger multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook. In a valiant yet ultimately luckless attempt to instil some interest into the slightly subdued and, for the most part, seated crowd, Cook taught the audience some basic backing vocals before adding some intricate country guitar pickings and heartfelt lyrics over the few non-committal mumblings. However, as Cook was joined onstage for his final song by MC Taylor and the other members of the Hiss Golden Messenger cast the atmosphere became noticeably warmer. This may have been due to the considerable impact a full band has when compared to just a man and his guitar but the fact that the so called headline act had joined the support act onstage immediately made for an environment of intimacy and companionship.
So, as Hiss Golden Messenger emerged around twenty minutes later, the crowd that made up a half-full Brudenell Social Club confidently made its way towards the front of the stage. Although singer songwriter MC Taylor often plays with a six-piece backing band, the three alongside him this evening gave his lush compositions a sturdy and surprisingly expansive sound. They opened with ‘Brother, Do you Know The Road?’ in which Taylor and his band exchanged question and answer style lyrics rooted in traditional blues and spiritual yearnings. The track immediately made evident a sense of fraternity and shared purpose amongst the Hiss collective. As expected, the majority of the material came from last year’s Lateness of Dancers with the band rocking through album opener ‘Lucia’, living-for-the-weekend ballad ‘Saturday’s Song’ and the thoroughly danceable ‘Mahogany Dread’. Whenever Hiss Golden Messenger has been discussed Bob Dylan comparisons have been ever-present and MC Taylor explicitly positioned him as a point of reference when recalling Dylan’s recent complaint that “nobody plays grooves anymore”. Taylor’s response to Dylan’s comment was “well we do”. And he’s right. Clearly Dylan needs to look a little further because MC Taylor and co, even when reduced to a four piece, channelled elements of blues, country and jazz into their vibrant licks and instrumental excursions. The result was a groove-ridden set which offered a compellingly alternate take on the album material.
Having treated the crowd to around on hour’s worth of material the band stood down, leaving MC Taylor alone on stage. With eyes alight with passion he delivered ardent acoustic versions of ‘Lateness of Dancers’ and Waylon Jennings’ ‘Lonesome On’ry and Mean’ before the band rejoined him for what Taylor called “a little experiment”. It was this experiment which proved to be the making of the show.
Stepping down into the cockpit to join the crowd, who immediately formed a circle around him, Taylor began strumming the chords to ‘Drum’, the closing track on Lateness of Dancers. With Phil Cook again orchestrating the crowd, the track morphed into an intensely embracing and intimate affair so that whenever the chorus came around the whole Brudenell gathering partook in singing ‘Take the good news, spirit it away. Take the good news, carry it away’. So it was in the spirit of American roots and traditional music that the show ended with a genuine sense of community and inclusivity aided by the rich and hopeful lyrics planted on everyone’s lips.
James HopkinBy James Hopkin