Given its prominence in this evening’s performance, M.C. Taylor wonders if the word ‘groove’ has now become a pejorative term in the lexicon of modern musical parlance. The man who is the driving force behind Hiss Golden Messenger need not worry. For once he and his bandmates from Durham, North Carolina hit that groove they stay right in it until the very end. And what a groove it is.
Alongside Taylor is Phil Cook – who also doubles as the night’s excellent support – on guitar and keys; bassist Scott Hirsch, a man with whom Taylor has been rolling around in tour vans for twenty years; and powerhouse Lost In The Trees’ drummer Kyle Keegan. Together they hit the ground running with ‘Brother, Do You Know The Road?’ Never having made its way onto any full-length Hiss Golden Messenger album, Taylor had always viewed the song as something of an orphan. But now it has got itself a home in the brand new three-track Southern Grammar EP and with this new found security ‘Brother, Do You Know The Road?’ assumes epic proportions. It is as colossal an opening song as you are ever likely to hear with Hirsch and Cook’s call-and response harmonies adding an even greater gospel gravitas to what is already an epic tune.
For the next hour and a half the band zig-zag their majestic way through Hiss Golden Messenger’s back pages, playing “grooves that are hard and sensitive”. ‘Saturday’s Song’ – from Hiss Golden Messenger’s fifth and most recent long player, last year’s Lateness Of Dancers – transports the responsibility for all that initial weekend joy firmly onto the Sabbath’s shoulders. A rollicking, rootsy number it recalls the carnival atmosphere of former Faces bass guitarist Ronnie Lane’s legendary Passing Show as it travelled from town to town in the 1970s.
The second song to appear tonight from the Southern Grammar EP is ‘He Wrote The Book’. Another perfect example of M.C. Taylor’s love of gospel music, it connects to the ensuing ‘Mahogany Dread’ through both songs’ spiritual awakening and Taylor’s continuing search for true faith. ‘Sufferer (Love My Conqueror)’ reminds Taylor of Jason Molina, the song acquiring even greater poignancy by the fact that Taylor is stood on the exact same spot where Molina had been in July 2011 – less than two years before his tragic passing – when fronting his band Magnolia Electric Co.
Taylor then introduces “the Rosetta Stone of all grooves”, an imperious cover of James Taylor’s ‘Angry Blues’. Here Hiss Golden Messenger assume the mantle of mid-70’s Little Feat – all funky beats, R&B consciousness and a pumping country heart – something they reprise on the barnstorming set closer ‘Southern Grammar’.
But M.C. Taylor isn’t finished yet, returning for a beautifully seductive solo offering of the title track from Lateness Of Dancers. As his three bandmates return to the stage, Taylor then recalls the words of Brian Eno and his apparent view of the three men “who had the groove”. Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s drummer during the late, great Nigerian’s most groundbreaking years); Can’s founding member and yet another legendary drummer Jaki Liebezeit); and Taylor couldn’t quite remember the third, eventually suggesting that if it wasn’t it really should have been Waylon Jennings, before tearing into a cracking cover of the eternal country outlaw’s ‘Lonesome, On’ry and Mean’.
And yet still there is time for all four men to step down off the Brudenell stage and into the audience as if they are re-enacting a scene in front of some North Durham porch to play an unplugged and totally impromptu ‘Drum’ from Hiss Golden Messenger’s second album Poor Moon. It was just that sort of evening; spontaneous, intimate and one that lay deep inside the groove; an evening that will stay in the memory for a very long time to come.
Some more photos from this show can be found here
The Southern Grammar EP was released on 3rd February 2015 through Merge Records