Hiss Golden Messenger’s Southern Spirituals Resonate On Terms of Surrender

MC Taylor. Photograph: Graham Tolbert
M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger. Photo credit: Graham Tolbert

For more than a decade, Hiss Golden Messenger has been making existential-drenched folk and soul. Along the way, the M.C. Taylor-fronted band has amassed a series of meditative albums exploring lingering questions that only life on the road can call upon. Through it all, Taylor has taken to gazing inward on the meaning of things.

This is perhaps best portrayed on the 2016 album Heart Like A Levee, in which Taylor approaches each song as literal gospel, putting together an album as southern as his primary home, Durham, North Carolina. (“Sing me a river / I’m a peach tree jumper with rain in my shoes,” he sings on the album’s title track.) 

Three years, and some deeper searching on, Taylor is back at it again with the inquisitive and soul-drenched album Terms Of Surrender, our Album Of The Week, which is now out on Merge. 

Taylor is a skilled interpreter of Americana – mandolin and steel guitar chug along at the speed of the band’s electric pianos – with an indomitable spirit of overcoming. And on the new album, there is much to overcome.  “Another year older,” Taylor sings on the first track, “I Need a Teacher.” “Debt slightly deeper. Paycheck smaller. Damn, I need a teacher.” 

Terms of Surrender is part apology, part plea, part love letter,” Taylor said in a release. “It’s about how much of the most important parts of ourselves we can sacrifice and still feel like we’re living the life that we thought we wanted.”

Much of that seems directed at his children, more pointedly than before. Taylor has said the songs making up Terms of Surrender are lyrical testaments, a way of expressing the things that he might regret never saying: “These tunes are, in part, imagined conversations that I am having with the people that are close to me, as something to leave behind,” he told Rolling Stone.

Written for his daughter, “Happy Birthday Baby” begs for her to “think of me better than I think of myself.” On “Cat’s Eye Blue,” a child is asking: “Daddy, take down your sorrow.” 

Introspective as it may be, Terms of Surrender is a call to action. Taylor calls the album “a wandering record,” and a place to “mirror the searching spirit of the music.”

The Colorado Sound Presents Hiss Golden Messenger at Globe Hall on October 18, 19, and 20