As suggested by the title, there’s something undeniably soulful about “Hallelujah Anyhow,” the latest album from Hiss Golden Messenger. Drawing from blues and folk traditions, M.C. Taylor and his band groove quietly in support of a joy that stands against the pain of life. The laid-back jams on the album are AM-radio ready and a pleasure to listen to.
Opener “Jenny of the Roses” finds just the right balance between the sadness of memories and the determination to face the future with hope on your side:
Were you trying to tell me something?
Didn’t it rain?
Didn’t it thunder?
O’er ribbons of highway
And you were caught under”
The track shines with bright piano chords and a roots groove that moves with the best of 70s rock. Taylor’s voice is the perfect complement – expressive and weary with a soulful affectation that seems to emerge out of the darkness itself. Throughout “Hallelujah Anyhow,” Taylor uses it expertly. You can hear him straining to find joy in every note.
When diving into such traditional rhythmic music, it helps to have a stellar band, and Hiss Golden Messenger delivers in that department. Harmonica, saxophone, and organ add energetic touches to the album, especially on tracks such as “Gulfport You’ve Been on My Mind” and “John The Gun,” where the saxophone rings out in triumph over get-up-and-dance guitar riffs. At times the album feels like a workout in country-soul and rootsy rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s never over the top. If Hiss Golden Messenger has anything, it’s tasteful delivery.
Other songs find their soulfulness in restraint. “Caledonia, My Love” feels like an old folk tale updated into an americana story:
“Caledonia, my love
Won’t you come to me?
Twelve pieces of silver
And gold in your teeth
Said Good King John
Many fathoms deep
From the fire of the morning
To the blood of the evening”
Despite the weight of tradition and the heaviness of life, Hiss Golden Messenger seems determined to use the rich history of music to face up against the demons of life. In “John the Gun,” Taylor sings that he even though he is “torn and tattered,” he swears that “I’ll abide / Baby, I’ll swear that I’ll abide.” The country-soul groove that they summon sparkles against the darkness that constantly threatens to overcome. It’s part gospel and part roots revival, and the alchemy works. The music of “Hallelujah Anyhow” is defiantly positive even as it stews in the very darkness it is trying to overcome.
Though Hiss Golden Messenger doesn’t break any new ground on the record, “Hallelujah Anyhow” flexes its southern roots and provides us with a feel-good album for any season. This is the sort of music that takes you somewhere, to a place where the darkness doesn’t seem so overwhelming.