The temptation is to go full-Pitchfork on Hiss Golden Messenger‘s latest, Hallelujah Anyhow, and really delve into the meaning of the lyrics and fathom some concept or backstory that probably isn’t there just to make it sound cool and relevant, a bit like 19th Century scholars dissecting Shakespeare desperately in search of a literary hero. “This music is for hope“, frontman MC Taylor has stated over-dramatically, “love is the only way out. I’ve never been afraid of the darkness; it’s just a different kind of light“. That’s not to assume Hallelujah Anyhow is a redemption album, the “forgive me for I have sinned” and “woe is me” sentiments are thankfully few and far between, Taylor preferring a more MOR radio friendly; familiar but nuanced HGM sound on the band’s tenth effort, and there are major chord moments of joy splattered throughout this record like a gentle summer rain.
The Dylan and Springsteen comparisons are lazy but correct on tracks like ‘Jenny of the Roses’ while the honky-tonk piano and bluesy riffs of the same track and standouts ‘I Am The Song’ and ‘Gulfport You’ve Been On My Mind’ bring to mind the Black Crowes at their loosest, most stoned and Hollywood Town Hall-era Jayhawks. We’re talking upbeat Americana, often short and sweet with a sentimental traveller’s tone but fans of the band will already be familiar with Taylor’s way with an introspective narrative and slightly jaunty musical twist.
Whether by design or not Hallelujah Anyhow is an album of song pairings so where ‘I Am The Song’ and ‘Gulfport…’ sit nicely side by side so too do the darker piano led ballads of ‘Jaw’ and ‘Harder Rain’ and the slower tempo songs work best here but elsewhere ‘John The Gun’ drifts knowingly into generic MOR country rock, even down to the sax solo while its partner, ‘Domino (Time Will Tell)’ gets a bit too Sheryl Crow if you squint your ears.
Similarly, ‘Caledonia, My Love’ is the most overtly folky offering, the acoustic guitar and timeless lyrics bringing to mind the north American frontiers and , um, pirates. It’s a lovely ode and one which lingers on long after it’s gone. Closer, ‘When The Wall Comes Down’ is more generic folk rock but very pleasing on the ears which pretty much sums up Hallelujah Anyhow. And the truth is you don’t need an edgy relevance to enjoy this music and ten albums into a career why would you even require it?
Hallelujah Anyhow is released on September 22nd through Merge Records.