Search Results for 'Hiss Golden Messenger'

(Upcoming Release) Hiss Golden Messenger Collects Pre-Merge Catalog and Rarities In ‘Devotion’ Box Set Out 11/2/2018

News of a new Hiss Golden Messenger release was nestled discretely in a new interview with frontman M.C. Taylor in The Atlantic today. The article mentioned that he’s also working on a new album, keeping up with the nearly-yearly release schedule he’s been maintaining. The article is a nice snapshot of where he is these days, balancing the demands of home life and working musician. The article provides a quick history of Taylor’s career, which is probably new information for many who are only familiar with his recent releases.

This blog started around the time of his previous band The Court & Spark’s last release Hearts in 2006. In fact, I think my review of it might have been the first or second review I did. Just over a year later the band called it quits and Taylor and Scott Hirsch started working on the nascent version of Hiss Golden Messenger. At the time I was exchanging messages on MySpace with Taylor and he sent me rough mixes for what would be the first studio release Country Hai East Cotton. The article in the Atlantic describes it as “[not] bad, just listless.” When I was still in regular communication with Taylor, I used to suggest that he resurrect those songs live, but it was clear he was drawing a line in the sand of his catalog. His 2010 release Bad Debt represented a reboot of his songwriting. He’s quoted in the article: “I had to figure out how to sing a song that I meant, that I could carry around every night for months or years. I didn’t have that when I was in my late teens. I sure as shit didn’t have it in my 20s,” he says. “When I made Bad Debt it felt like I wrote the book of my life. I had never had that feeling creating music before.”

So, this is where the new boxset from Merge Records Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children starts. Due out 11/2, it is a gorgeously appointed package with the three main Hiss Golden Messenger releases that were released on the Paradise of Bachelors label (Bad Debt (2010), Poor Moon (2011), and Haw (2013)) plus a collection of rarities called Virgo Fool. The three albums have been out of print for a while and are now remastered for this box set and will be offered also as regular releases in the Merge catalog with new similarly-themed cover art. Here is what Merge says about the box:

“Individually numbered in a one-time pressing of 2,200 of each format, the four-album set is housed in a beautiful cloth-wrapped slipcase with three-color foil detailing and includes an exclusive foldout poster. Each CD is packaged with liner notes and complete lyrics inside a mini-gatefold wallet with a debossed cover. Each LP, pressed on black vinyl, includes a two-sided insert with liner notes and full lyrics plus a download card, all inside a heavyweight jacket with a debossed cover.”

For the ardent HGM collectors among us, the chance to get the rarities on one LP is worth the price of admission– it is only available in physical format in the box sets. Here is the track list for Virgo Fool along with where the tracks came from:

1. Rock Holy – From the Merge Records 25th Anniversary 7-inch box set Or Thousands of Prizes
2. Black Country Woman – Led Zeppelin cover from the Mojo Magazine compilation Mojo Presents Physical Graffiti Redrawn
3. Joyce & Joel – previously unreleased, but “Joyce & Joel Martin” are credited as being the house where “Brother Do You Know the Road” was recorded.
4. Lion/Lamb – Not sure if this will be the same version, but this song was included on the Root Work, Live on WFMU LP.
5. Father Sky – From the 2012 compilation of outtakes called Lord, I Love The Rain.
6. Issa – Haw outtake included in the digital only Glad EP. We’re missing the other original song “Roll River Roll” from that collection.
7. Back to the River Again – previously unreleased
8. Tell Everyone – Ronnie Lane cover from Lord, I Love The Rain.
9. Karen’s Blues – from Lord, I Love The Rain
10. The Revenant – Michael Hurley cover from Lord, I Love The Rain
11. Hard Promises – previously unreleased

Not one to give it all away, we’re missing a few rarities that maybe we’ll see collected in the future:

“Shiloh Town” : a Tim Hardin cover that was included on a split 7″ with Moviola. RSD 2012 limited to 200.

“Fennario” : a Michael Chapman cover which was included in the tribute album Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman. Was also included in the Glad digital EP.

“Brown Eyed Women” from the Day of the Dead Grateful Dead tribute.

“Lion of Judah” : a cover of Clive’s Original Band song. Included on the Glad digital EP.

“The Beast and Dragon, Adored” : Spoon cover from the digital only Or Thousands of Prizes covers collection.

“My Cousin’s King” – Elephant Micah cover from the shared split 7″

“I Wish I Had Not Said That” (JJ Cale cover), “Still Life Blues” (Elephant Micah cover), “Smoke Rings” (David Wiffen cover) from the Three-Lobed Recordings split LP with Michael Chapman as part of their Parallelogram series of collaborative releases.

“Jesus Dub” : Dub version of “Jesus Shot Me In The Head” that was the b-side to the RSD 7″

“Passing Clouds”/”Passing Clouds Dub” – Hiss Golden Messenger meets Spacebomb benefit 7″

There might be other songs I’m forgetting. I like the other songs on the Lord, I Love The Rain, so those could show up on a future collection.

(Upcoming Release) Hiss Golden Messenger – Southern Grammar EP Out 2/3/15 – Letterman Video

Southern Grammar EP

 

Some good news from the Hiss Golden Messenger camp today!

First, we’re getting a new 12″ vinyl 3-track EP in February! Titled Southern Grammar, it will feature the previously digitally released “Brother, Do You Know The Road,” and a version of “Southern Grammar” that was recorded for WXPN’s World Cafe.

In addition to those two tracks, the EP will include the Lateness of Dancers outtake “He Wrote The Book” which dedicated HGM fans might recall was a solo acoustic Bad Debt outtake that was collected on the 2012 album Lord I Love The Rain. I’m assuming since this was intended for Lateness, that it is a full-band recording.

The EP is available for pre-order right now for $10.98 from Merge and releases February 3, 2015. There will be a digital download with it.

In addition to this, a full-band HGM stormed the Ed Sullivan Theater (home of The Late Show with David Letterman) last night and performed “Southern Grammar.”

Here are the tracks from the EP you can check out:

A video for the World Cafe performance of “Southern Grammar”

“Brother, Do You Know the Road?”

The version of “He Wrote the Book” that was on Lord I Love the Rain

 

New Hiss Golden Messenger Song – “Brother, Do You Know The Road?”

Hiss Golden Messenger - Brother, Do You Know The Road

Off the heels of a recent announcement that Hiss Golden Messenger have been signed to the very copacetic North Carolina label Merge (home to William Tyler, who lends a helping hand frequently) with a new album slated for September, and on the cusp of a run of live dates in Europe we are treated to a new Hiss Golden Messenger song, “Brother, Do You Know the Road?” Available this week on iTunes.

This is a song that has been performed at live shows since 2012– sort of as a tune-up song as the band comes on the stage. At least, that is the way I heard it on the NYCTaper.com recording of his 2012 appearance at the Hopscotch Festival.

Recorded in one take— the song encapsulates what is so enchanting about the HGM sound– seemingly autobiographical, vaguely spiritual, undertones of lost hope, revelatory appearances of joy, all wrapped in stunning musical performances which draw influence from early 70’s folk rock. At $0.99 for over six-minutes of music it is a heck of a deal, and belongs on everyone’s digital player.

New Hiss Golden Messenger Album “Lord I Love The Rain” Expands on Bonus EP – Out 10/28

I wasn’t expecting a new release from Hiss Golden Messenger so soon after the release of the brilliant Poor Moon. Though I guess it has already almost been a year since it’s limited vinyl release on Paradise of Bachelors, but in that year Poor Moon received a reissue of sorts in April as a CD on Thompkins Square giving it the distinction of being one of the few contemporary releases on the label.

For the pre-order campaign for Poor Moon, MC Taylor tried a kind of Indiegogo/Kickstarter approach by providing tiered bonuses, which included a digital download of a live recording, and a 6-track EP called Lord I Love The Rain that was made up of solo acoustic tracks from Bad Debt, and a “conceptual soundtrack” called He Wore Rings on Every Finger. It was a welcomed, if a bit uneven collection of songs serving as bonus content.

This week it was announced that Lord I Love The Rain would get an expanded and improved treatment to serve as a bridge to the “proper” follow up to Poor Moon titled Haw to come out March 2013 on Paradise of Bachelors. This release will be produced by the German label Jellyfant in a limited run of 600 with only 240 making their way to our shores. The LP is mixed by Scott Hirsch of HGM and mastered by Anthony Puglisi who has done an amazing job with a few of the last vinyl releases in the HGM catalog. The cover will be Folkways-style paste-on jackets designed by Brendan Greaves, with liner notes by folklorist, curator and guitarist Nathan Salsburg. Brendan also designed the LP jacket for Poor Moon.

In addition to remixing the songs from the EP for this release, it also gains some additional tracks, loses a track and gets re-sequenced into an album where one side is made up of the Bad Debt lo-fi recordings, and the second side is made up of full-band songs in a kind of Rust Never Sleepsfashion. The new songs are a couple of covers– “The Revenant” from Michael Hurley, and “Tell Everyone” by Ronnie Lane, plus an instrumental “War” on the full band side, and “Karen’s Blues,” “He Wrote The Book,” “Roll River Roll” on the solo acoustic side. On the changes made for this release Taylor said, “We weren’t satisfied with the original version [of the EP], especially “Bright Phoebus” which was just flat and dumb. So it’s really nice to get another crack at it. I think the whole collection hangs together nicely. It’s nice to have the physical divide of sides A and B to separate the lo-fi from the higher fidelity [songs.]” Having listened to the collection a few times, I completely agree. The collection goes from being a kind of odds-and-sods to a release that works as a whole.

Side A
Karen’s Blues
He Wrote the Book
Roll River Roll
Father Sky
Westering
Fox and His Friends

Side B
Born on a Crescent Moon
The Revenant (Michael Hurley)
War
You Never Know
Tell Everyone (Ronnie Lane)

To get in on this rare release, you can pre-order from Taylor and Hirsch’s label Heaven and Earth Magic for $20 plus shipping, which is a pretty good deal. Plus, you get a copy of the split 7″ with Elephant Micah for freebies! You also get three songs you can download right away, and will get a link to download the rest of the release when it comes out on October 28th.

You can listen to three of the tracks here:

While you’re at it, you should check out the Hiss Golden Messenger Daytrotter session!

(Upcoming Release) Hiss Golden Messenger to Release Limited 7″ for Record Store Day

Well spring is nearly here, when the minds of young men turn to… Record Store Day!

We’re just getting the early reports of what the brick and mortar treasures will be, and I’ll be reporting on the ones that I think are interesting. The first one up is a limited-edition 7″ 45 RPM single from Hiss Golden Messenger of the Poor Moon song “Jesus Shot Me In The Head” b/w a Dub reworking of the A side titled “Jesus Dub” appropriately enough. This record will be on Tompkins Square Records which is primarily a folk and Americana  reissue label which recently has been expanding into new releases, which will include a CD reissue of Hiss Golden Messenger’s 2011 release Poor Moon, which had been a digital and vinyl only release originally.

The record will be in stores on Record Store Day (4/21/12) and a limited few will be available through MC Taylor. The record will be distributed by Fontana, so ask your favorite local record store to order one for you to avoid the inevitable eBay inflation!

Read this interview with Tomkins Square label head Josh Rosenthal where he mentions HGM.

Here is a promo video for the release with a sample of “Jesus Dub.”

Hiss Golden Messenger “Jesus Dub” Teaser from Harlan Campbell on Vimeo.

(Upcoming Release) Hiss Golden Messenger – “Poor Moon” Waxes 11/1/11 – Preorder Bundles Galore

Hiss Golden Messenger is the band name that former Court & Spark members MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch have been using since the dissolution of their previous band in 2007. Since then there have been four releases under this moniker: Live in Big Sur in 2007, Country Hai East Cotton in 2008 (which was re-released last year on Black Maps), and in 2010 we saw Root Work which was based on live in-studio Country Hai tracks and Bad Debt which was a recording of spiritually-themed songs Taylor recorded in his kitchen to a cassette recorder.

On November 1st, Hiss Golden Messenger will be releasing a new album called Poor Moon. Poor Moon will be released on a new record label, Paradise of Bachelors and will come out in a hand-numbered limited edition of 500 on beautiful 150g vinyl with a tip-on sleeve designed by Brendan Greaves from Paradise of Bachelors featuring a beautifully-detailed illustration by Alex Jako.

As if this wasn’t enough reason to jump on this purchase, there are tiers you can purchase at which get you bonus downloads. The base $20 “Oak” level gets you the vinyl on your doorstep around 11/1/11, but also a digital download of the album via Bandcamp on 10/15, so you can enjoy it whilst you wait for the physical version. (By the way, they are charging a very reasonable $5 domestic shipping and handling, as opposed to typical shipping charges seen via TopSpin these days). If you order at the $25 “Ash” level, you get an EP of demos and outtakes titled Lord, I Love the Rain which has some tracks from the Bad Debt sessions as well as some studio tracks from an “conceptual soundtrack” called He Wore Rings on Every Finger. At the $30 “Rowan” level you get the aforementioned EP, plus a live recording from 2008 called Plowed: Live in Bovina which was recorded in upstate New York around the same time that the Root Work radio session was taped.

Notably, the tracks on Lord, I Love The Rain will be the basis of the next HGM release, which is targeted for Spring 2012!

As for Poor Moon itself– the album shares it roots with the kitchen table ruminations of Bad Debt in that most of the songs started there. We get full-band treatments of  “Balthazar’s Song,” “O Little Light,” “Jesus Shot Me in the Head,” a driving “Super Blue (Two Days Clean),” Balthazar’s Song” and “Call Him Daylight” (which was a bonus track on the vinyl version of Bad Debt). The Lord, I Love the Rain EP also includes a Bad Debt version of “Westering.” So, you might consider Bad Debt and Poor Moon together as being a “deluxe” edition.

There are few songwriters today that have the ability to capture the sentiment of reaching desire that really grabs me. I think that MC Taylor is in a small group of current songwriters that includes Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and Richard Buckner that excel in this. If you’ve been following the combined story of The Court & Spark and Hiss Golden Messenger, the music on Poor Moon is not as much a revelation as it is a reinforcement of this fact.

Poor Moon captures a certain timelessness in its sound– the production doesn’t stand in the way of the music. Taylor confirms this in a recent conversation, “That was the intention. I wanted sort of a neutral production with the rhythm section fairly up front– which it is– and more acoustic instruments than Country Hai and Root Work. Country Hai was a concerted effort to feature no acoustic guitar whatsoever.”

To that end, Taylor has never been afraid to draw inspiration from his very diverse musical tastes and Poor Moon to these ears has some subtle but definite vibe and tone from early 70’s Van Morrison and Grateful Dead (more American Beauty than Aoxomoxoa, though). Certainly a more rustic setting than Country Hai, I would say, but no less enjoyable.

Below are the Bandcamp links to samples of tracks from Poor Moon and the two bonus releases and the links to order.

CLICK HERE to go to the Ordering Page for Poor Moon

Click Here for the Hiss Golden Messenger MySpace Page

Click Here for the Hiss Golden Messenger Facebook Page

Click Here for the Paradise of Bachelors Website

Click Here for Heaven and Earth Magic Recording Company

Click Here for MC Taylor’s Blog “The Old Straight Track”

 

(Upcoming Release) Hiss Golden Messenger’s Bad Debt Collected on November 17th

Back in May I was exchanging e-mails with MC Taylor– erstwhile of The Court & Spark and alter-ego Jai Lil Diamond of Hiss Golden Messenger— about his last release Root Work which was a re-imagining of some tracks from Country Hai East Cotton. (BTW: Root Work is available in digital and vinyl formats. The vinyl version was limited to 100 and is not sold out yet– go get it!!) In the volley that ensued he let it drop that he was already planning a release for this fall. “It’s a gospel record–” he said, “or at least some serious philosophical music– recorded with just me and an acoustic guitar into a classroom tape recorder at the kitchen table this past winter. It’s very crude-sounding, but I think it’s compelling and deserving of its own release.”

He attached an mp3 of “Jesus Shot Me in the Head” which upon the first listen had me transfixed, and frankly even now as I listen to it, I’m forced to do nothing else until its tale is told. As MC points out, it has a very low-fidelity esthetic, but the starkness pulls the listener in. My first thought upon hearing the song and its different personality from previous recordings by HGM or the Court & Spark was that it was like the “Luke the Drifter” personae that Hank Williams Sr., adopted to deliver his religious songs.

He sent me three other songs to listen to and they all were obviously cut from the same cloth. “Straw Man Red Sun River Gold,” “The Serpent Is Kind (Compared to Man), and what would end up being the title track– “Bad Debt.”

Over the summer I got small glimpses of the upcoming release– I hang in some Internet circles that MC and some of his musician friends do and they were talking about it. In late June, Anthony Puglisi– who did the mastering for Root Work— posted that he was listening to “Balthazar” from an upcoming album Bad Debt. This prompted me to search for this album title and I found via last.fm that a couple of people were listening to an album called Bad Debt! It was coming!

In August, MC updated the Facebook Fan Page for Hiss Golden Messenger that John Mulvey had included Bad Debt on a playlist in Uncut Magazine. It listed the record label as Blackmaps (under construction at the moment). Some quick searching turned up that Blackmaps is a book publisher and record label headquartered in London and Tokyo. In fact, MC mentioned Blackmaps in a post to the website for his record label Heaven and Earth Magic.

This last week it occurred to me that I should look to see if any more crumbs of Bad Debt had shown up on the Internet table– and they had! For one thing, I found this really great Bandcamp player of the ENTIRE RECORD! The player also informs us that the release date is November 17th, 2010!

The little bit of PR provided by the label informs us also that there will be another release before a full album in Summer, 2011! I sent a note off to MC to see if he can provide us any additional information. In the meantime, I present to you Bad Debt…

Hiss Golden Messenger ‘Bad Debt’ by blackmaps

Update: Taylor sent me an e-mail yesterday with the correct cover art (the artwork on the Bandcamp player will be the art for the CD itself). Pretty cool– reminds me of the Jerry Garcia handprint. He also said that some time after the CD release of Bad Debt, he would do a very limited run of vinyl (100 copies, like he did with Root Work) on his label Heaven and Earth Magic! We’ll keep you posted on that!

Hiss Golden Messenger Transforms Country Hai Tracks on Vinyl as “Root Work”

When I heard that the next Hiss Golden Messenger release was going to be made available on vinyl I was pretty excited to hear it. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t going to be new HGM songs but an EP to be titled Root Work based on a live radio session in August recorded by Irene Trudel on WFMU. I’d had the tracks that would make up Country Hai East Cotton since 2007 and the album proper came out last year. I was getting pretty hungry for some new material from MC and company!

In appreciation for the general love that playbsides.com gives Hiss Golden Messenger, MC Taylor sent me the mp3’s of Root Work to peruse in April.  “At first, I wasn’t sure about commercially releasing this material as it appears on Country Hai,” he said in a later e-mail, ” but it sounds so good– through no fault of mine, really– that I thought it would make a really nice  limited-edition vinyl release. That particular lineup of the band was special, in that we only played together three times (this  recording was the second time), and it all came together.”

The lineup for Root Work is Slim Diamond (MC Taylor) on vocals and guitar, on bass and lapsteel is regular HGM member Scott Hirsch, Yair Evnine on guitar, Terry Lonergan on percussion, Robert Stillman on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Crowmeat Bob on horns.

The resulting six-track recording is less a re-hashing of Country Hai East Cotton than it is a re-imagining of the source. I think this is partially a product of the chemistry of the musicians as well as MC and Scott benefiting from a perspective two years after the original album was recorded. The fresh perspective seems to allow the band to exercise some light improvisation.

“John Has Gone to the Light” goes from an almost five-minute track to an almost nine minute song. The band spends more time riding the loping dub beat before succumbing to the double reggae-time chorus.

“Lion/Lamb” actually gets edited from the epic Traffic-ish “Lion” on Country Hai down to a just over three-minute stripped down folky strumming guitar and mandolin.

“Resurrection Blues” was a cursing post-death two-beat march on Country Hai. On Root Work it becomes a bluesy sax-driven gospel swagger. The call-and-response makes me think that the Blind Boys of Alabama should cover this version!

“O Nathaniel” is stripped and slowed down to reveal the rich palate of the vocal melody at the sacrifice of the more pronounced double-time Fleetwood Mac glissando payoff at the chorus on. But, on the Root Work version of this song we get a really great guitar solo as the song wraps up that would make Lindsey Buckingham take a second notice.

“Isobel” doesn’t vary much from the original version, but it is clear that MC is comfortable hanging on notes in his vocal making the whole song a more relaxed and bluesy experience. The new mix of instruments and in particular the piano riffing is a welcome development to the song.

“From a Lincoln Continental (Boogie Interpolated)” I thought this Tim Rose cover from Country Hai ended up sounding a bit like a “Digging In The Dirt”- period Peter Gabriel due to the clockwork approach to the instrumentation. On Root Work “Boogie” gets a welcome extended swampy blues workout. The song ends up sounding a lot more like the original Tim Rose version this way.

I caught up with MC last week and the pre-sale is up on the Heaven & Earth Magic Company website. Heaven & Earth Magic Company is the record label MC and Scott Hirsch started for their projects. Their first release was Country Hai East Cotton. The vinyl release of Root Work is a frighteningly limited one-hundred records– each numbered with covers designed by Brendan Greaves and hand screened by MC! The record is $15 (around $20 shipped) and comes with a digital download from bandcamp so you can get 320Kbps mp3’s or FLACs (or just about anything else actually). This is a steal, frankly. If you’re not into the vinyl thing, you can just order the download for a very reasonable $6 or you can pick individual tracks for $1 apiece.

The debate over the versions of the songs between Country Hai East Cotton and Root Work is akin to debating the merits of red versus white wine. Either is appropriate depending on when you’re drinking. I’m looking forward to drinking in the subtle tannins and liquorice notes of the vinyl pressing of Root Work.

Click Here to listen to tracks from Hiss Golden Messenger’s Root Work and to order digital download or vinyl pressing with digital download.

The Long Journey of “Country Hai East Cotton” by Hiss Golden Messenger

Hiss Golden Messenger - Country Hai East Cotton
Once upon a time there was a little band from San Francisco called The Court & Spark. For seven years they crafted their own flavor of Americana and Rock in relative obscurity. For those people who did hear their music, most– like me– became fans.

I first heard about The Court & Spark on All Things Considered one cold night at the end of 2001 when Sarah Bardeen reviewed Bless You. I had never heard anything quite like it, and the loping clockwork percussion paired with singer M.C. Taylor’s melancholy vocals and slide guitar– particularly on “To See The Fires” had me tracking the album down immediately and I followed their career until they disbanded in 2007 following the release of Hearts– an album I thought was their best effort to that point.

As announced from their website, “seeing as how we’re all involved in different musical projects, it seems best to retire the C&S name for a while.” M.C. Taylor and Scott Hirsch moved to the East Coast and would continue to work together in a new project cryptically called Hiss Golden Messenger. At the same time they announced the new direction, they also announced from their MySpace page a live CD for sale of a show that Hiss Golden Messenger did called Live at the Fernwood Lodge, Big Sur 4/22/07. I ordered that right away since it was a limited hand-stamped run. When I received the CD, I also got another nondescrept CD-R with only a Sharpie-scrawled “HARPO” on it.

The songs contained on this CD were, according to M.C., “very rough mixes” of an album he was hoping to release after he sorted out getting a label and taking to a studio for mixing and mastering. He was very modest about the recording since I guess he felt it wasn’t done, going so far as to suggest I could share it on my site if I wanted.

The music contained on HARPO was mesmerizing. It was really a continuation of the experimentation I’d heard on the last Court & Spark album, Hearts. I was a bit giddy with this secret album and I did share it with a couple of people I knew who loved The Court & Spark as much as I did. I really felt that the modesty that M.C. had about HARPO’s fitness to be released was completely unfounded! If these were home demos on some hissy old 4-track, I would have still been excited to hear it, and would have shared it out– but I saw the potential of these songs to be much more than mere “rough mixes.” The damn thing sounded complete, to me! I know that others who had received HARPO felt the same way.

As it turned out the songs on HARPO would become Country Hai East Cotton remixed and in a different track sequence. I received a review copy of Country Hai East Cotton in early May and have been listening to it in my regular diet of music. The resequencing was a bit jarring at first, since I was so familiar with the sequence on HARPO. The mix was certainly an improvement on Country Hai East Cotton over HARPO, so the effort of taking it to a studio for some polish yielded exceptional results. The levels were pushed up a bit and the instrument head space has been expanded. HARPO was a good headphone album, but Country Hai East Cotton is really an experience on the cans. No more is the remix more evident than on the cover of the Tim Rose song “Boogie Boogie” where we gained prominent breaths and and a wah guitar line! What was a song I didn’t really care for in the original mix, but the Country mix has much more texture and kind of reminds me of “Digging in the Dirt” by Peter Gabriel.

Standout tracks for me have been “Watch Out For the Cannonball” with it’s compressed snare and keyboard patches, and “Oh Nathaniel.” “Oh Nathaniel” is the theme to a vampire story that sounds a lot like an outtake from late-period Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac. True Blood’s second season starts this month– they could use this song for the soundtrack– “drink their blood when they call on you…Rise up like the moon…” “Resurrection Blues” is a Nawlins funeral march of desperation where the narrator can’t seem to make it to heaven.

Country Hai East Cotton was released this week and is available in a couple formats from either the website of the record label the band formed called The Heaven and Earth Magic Recording Company, or from a number of brick-and-mortar stores– mostly on the coastal regions. The first format– and most desired frankly,  is the crazy-limited edition CD pressing seen in the picture above in all its glory. The limited-to-500 CD is encased in a color miniature gatefold cover which was illustrated by Nathaniel Russel and printed on 100% recycled cardstock. The CD is lovingly encased in a woven-fibre inner sleeve and the whole shebang is protected by a mylar sleeve. The picture above also shows the small gold-colored thankyou card that lists all of their intertube access and a haiku by Jaime De Angulo on the flipside.

Alternatively, you can download a 256Kbps version of the album in mp3’s for the price of a donation. Per the press-release from the band, “I realize that Country Hai East Cotton will be easily obtained for free on a host of torrent sites and blogs very soon, if it isn’t already. That’s OK. We appreciate that. But, at the risk of sounding totally romantic and/or naive, we’re hoping that those who have heard HGM and like what we do will choose to spend a little money on a disk or download directly from us.”

Indeed, this form of electronic sales where the consumer chooses what to pay has been attempted before successfully and not. Country Hai East Cotton is certainly one of my favorite releases this year and I can’t recommend enough that you, gentle reader, give this album a shot, and I think you’ll find that the band deserves your donation for this fantastic album.

Click Here to visit the Hiss Golden Messenger MySpace Page where you can hear tracks from Country Hai East Cotton.

Click Here to visit the Heaven & Earth Magic Recording Company to order your copy of Country Hai East Cotton.

Click Here to visit the blog page for Hiss Golden Messenger

Click Here to visit Hiss Golden Messenger Facebook Page

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2014

Top 20

Looking back at 2014 and what I listened to, it seems I spent most of the year listening to bands from Iowa. Eight of the Top 20 Albums of 2014 for It’s Time to Play B-Sides are either living in Iowa or have roots here. Some of this is easily explained by the fact that my other music gig is writing reviews for Little Village Magazine, but I had the very good fortune of being a writer during a year with the most Iowa bands putting their best foot forward.

This list sees returns of It’s Time to Play B-Sides regular favorites– Hiss Golden Messenger, Ryan Adams, Pieta Brown and Tom Petty– each turning in what should in retrospect be career-defining releases, in my opinon.

Vinyl continued its march of popularity in 2014– out of this list, only three releases didn’t come out on vinyl. The Jack Lion JAC EP came out on cassette, though (representing the resurgence of that physical media), the Surf Zombies album– though the band has been working towards getting that one put out on vinyl. It’s a… THING! was tracked on tape and would be a natural release on black plastic disc and The Sapwoods album.

Here’s the list– not ranked.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers MC Taylor and Scott Hirsh’s post-Court & Spark band Hiss Golden Messenger is back with their sixth or seventh release (depending on how you count self-released titles) and first release on their new label Merge Records. Lateness of Dancers continues the vibe and groove of their last two releases on Paradise of Bachelors but also provides a definitive declaration of purpose. With the association with Merge– a label as big as any independant can be– Taylor and Hirsh are not wasting their opportunity for bigger visibility. It seems like every blog/internet music magazine has declared Lateness of Dancers one of the great albums of 2014, plus the band has been doing some very aggressive promotion landing one of the remaining few musical guest spots on Letterman. 2015 should bring much more widespread touring for Hiss Golden Messenger, which I’m hoping will afford me the opportunity to see the band live.

Jerry David DiCicca – Understanding Land DiCicca is probably better known as the frontman for The Black Swans, which he disassembled after their– pardon the pun– swan song 2012 album Occasion For Song. Under his own name, the solo release for DiCicca continues the very loose country blues vibe he minted in The Black Swans. With some help from some friends including Will Oldham, Kelley Deal and Spooner Oldham DiCicca has made an impressive step away from his old identity as part of The Black Swans. Understanding Land seems to have missed the radar of a lot of places that would normally be championing the kind of quietly beautiful reflective song craft DiCicca has mastered. If you haven’t heard this record, go check it out. I’ll wait here until you get back.

The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes To be honest, I’m declaring this a favorite before I’ve had a chance to listen to this as much as the other albums on this list. At first, I was kind of put off by the very calculated concept of The New Basement Tapes: “Hey, we found these lyrics that Bob Dylan didn’t think were worth recording back in 1967 and he still doesn’t want to record them so let’s pull a band together!” The results are very good and the fact that these lyrics were written by Dylan almost 50 years ago doesn’t detract. Though, you probably could have put Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket together in a room without Dylan’s lyrics and would have still resulted in a fantastic album.

The Black Keys – Turn Blue Danger Mouse is paired up with The Black Keys for the third time since 2007’s Attack and Release (if you don’t include Blacroc, the hip hop side project), and we again find the duo recording songs slightly outside of their regular sound. The whole Turn Blue record is solid and really radio-friendly and stands up to repeated listens. At times I’m reminded of the latest Beck record (also produced by Danger Mouse), but more satisfyingly varied than Morning Phase.

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream While this album has been around awhile, and the brilliant single “Red Eyes” has been all over the place, I didn’t listen to the whole album until this month. The album’s general sound seems to come from the mid-to-late 80’s with it’s synths and either electronic percussion or drums so processed it sounds like it. At times it sounds like outtakes from Lindsey Buckingham’s 80’s albums or the more reaching anthemic sounds of Rod Stewart from the same period. A really enjoyable album.

Stanton Moore – Conversations Stanton Moore is the drummer and one of the founding members of Galactic. This is Moore’s first album as a jazz-bop trio with pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton — a style that he has dabbled in live settings but never committed to tape previously. The results are really great and fits in with my regular diet of 50’s and 60’s Blue Note and Prestige sides.

Game Theory – Blaze of Glory (reissue) Normally I wouldn’t include a reissue in this list. But, I’ll make an exception for the reissue campaign that Omnivore is undertaking of the entire Game Theory catalog that is nothing short of a miracle if they can keep it up. Scott Miller, the leader of both Game Theory and The Loud Family passed away unexpectedly in 2013, breaking the hearts of his devoted followers (which includes yours truly). The now-defunct label Alias Records attempted a reissue campaign that underwent some modifications (even re-recorded parts) by Scott Miller who was publicly never satisfied with the original early recordings (of which 1982’s Blaze of Glory is included). Even though I’m a devout fan of anything Scott Miller worked on and consider myself a collector, I did not have Blaze of Glory in its original incarnation (aka the “trash bag” version since the original packaging was a white trashbag with a sticker on it). I had the few manipulated or re-recorded tracks he included in the final Enigma Records compilation Tinkers to Evers to Chance and the Distortion of Glory Alias compilation which also included the two 1983 EP’s Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion. These were also lovingly reissued by Omnivore for Black Friday Record Store Day as colored 10″es.  This release of Blaze of Glory comes from the original master tapes, so unless you had the 1982 trash bag version of the album, you’ve never heard this mix before. The remaster sounds really great and sets the bar really high for the rest of the catalog to come. The album represents the very seeds of the future sound of the band. In some ways the album sounds very much a product of its time leaning heavily in the treble space (though this version brings some of the bass back) and incorporating buzzy synths and stuttering rhythms, but also not sounding like anything else at the time. Scott’s trademark turns of phrase and heartache are already established.

The digital download version includes 15 bonus tracks of demos, songs from the pre-GT band Alternative Learning, live tracks and some really early audio experiments from Scott. Having been a member of the Game Theory online community at large since the late 90’s, I’m very aware of the potential mountain of bonus material available for the rest of the releases coming down the line, so this campaign has few peers when it comes to the archives to draw from.

Teledrome – self-titled I stumbled upon the Canadian record label Mammoth Cave quite by accident as I was searching for an original pressing of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s Saavy Show Stoppers LP (“Having an Average Weekend” is the theme music to the 80’s and 90’s sketch comedy show Kids in the Hall) only to find that Mammoth Cave reissued it! Back in March the label sent out a link for a free download of Teledrome’s debut album (EP?) and I was hooked! Brooding android pop drawing from the dawn of synth pop sounding like Gary Numan or Ultravox. I’ve heard it compared to Ariel Pink as well. 10 track, 20 minutes. The vinyl is a 45 RPM 12″ and I’ll probably wear the shit out of it. Amazing record I can listen to over and over again.

Ryan Adams – self titled Lots has been written about the return of Ryan Adams– the short version is he’s addressed his health issues, gotten clean, opened his own recording studio, taken control of the business side of his art and is re-energized to work and has released an album that draws from his stated influences of 80’s rock. The album draws from the big guitar sounds of the 80’s and sounds a lot like an album that could have come out at that time– the lead single “Gimme Something Good” could just as easily have been on a Bryan Adams album (many have pointed out the similarities of the album art to Reckless). The whole album beginning to end is a fantastic listen and stands up to repeated listens and is a compliment to Love is Hell, in my opinion, which was one of the first albums I listened to from him. So far, there has only been one formal single from the record, and XM has been playing it in regular rotation. I could see a couple more singles making it in 2015. In the meantime, Ryan is also doing a limited edition monthly 7″ single release of outtakes and studio noodling that has turned out some really great tracks as well.

Springtime Carnivore – self titled I wrote about this release here. Greta Morgan of Gold Motel is back under her new solo moniker Springtime Carnivore. It’s everything I loved about Gold Motel– the sunny harmonies and melodies coupled with a darker wall-of-sound production. Be sure to catch some of the videos she’s put out in support of the record, too. Here’s the article I wrote for Play B-Sides about it.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye Petty decides to return back to a driving guitar sound and delivers the first #1 album of his career. In some regards this album is a reaction to his previous album Mojo. I really liked Mojo, but I think that his audience was turned off by the meandering bluesy sound of it. In my opinion Hypnotic Eye kind of uses Mojo and the Mudcrutch albums as a stylistic launching point. No one can argue with the incredible success Tom and the Heartbreakers have had over four decades. It’s incredible to think that he’s had hit singles in every decade of his career. I can’t think of any other band that has pulled that off for as long. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t had some albums that were, well, kind of lacking, and many of those were in this last decade. The Last DJ, Highway Companion and Echo were not great records. Though, I would put Hypnotic Eye up there with the amazing and underrated She’s The One Soundtrack and Wildflowers— the previous Rick Rubin produced albums from 1996 and 1994. Incidentally, both of these albums are getting reissues.

Greylag – self-titled Portland-based trio’s debut LP on Dead Oceans. Dead Oceans is the label for Califone these days, so that’s how I found out about Greylag. Their album sounds like a perfect melding of Jeff Buckley and Led Zeppelin III— which, now that I write it might seem redundant considering Jeff Buckley always sounded like he was influenced by Led Zeppelin III to me. Another album I can play on repeat and never tire of. I can’t wait to see what this band does going forward.

As I mentioned above, quite a few of my top list are either Iowa or Iowa-Related bands. I wrote reviews for Little Village for all of these albums, and I’ll include the link to that as well:

TWINS – Tomboys on Parade The sophomore release from TWINS finds the band tightening up what was already an impressive review of power pop influences. The word is out and they’re already touring nationally as ambassadors for the really exciting music scene that Iowa has recently. In my Little Village review of Tomboys on Parade I said the album has “sublimely polished nuggets of pop, washed in harmonies and falsettos, packed in backbeat and propelled by galloping guitars and sparkling arpeggios. The album is a damn fine slice of pop pie, and the vinyl version will spend a lot of time on my turntable.

The Sapwoods – Peaks and Valleys Another Cedar Falls band The Sapwoods steps up their game with their second album. In my LV review I said, “a timeless, straightforward and no-nonsense approach to songwriting. Guitar anthems go unapologetically for the melodic hook, carrying lyrics that focus on day-to-day concerns of the human condition.” The Sapwoods have a classic midwestern rock sound that is less like Cheap Trick and more like Wilco.

Kelly Pardekooper – Milk in Sunshine Kelly is the next generation of the Eastern Iowa Country Blues tradition– he says his influences are Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown and on his latest album Milk In Sunshine he incorporates both– Bo plays on the record and Kelly covers both a Ramsey and a Brown song on the vinyl version of the new album. The CD and digital download of the album includes all of the new songs that are Milk in Sunshine proper but also include a collection of “greatest hits”– songs that have been licensed for television. If you haven’t bought any of Kelly’s albums to date, you owe it to yourself to pick this release up. You can read my review of Milk in Sunshine here.

Pieta Brown – Paradise Outlaw Pieta Brown was invited to record at Justin Vernon’s April Base studio in Eau Claire, WI. The resulting album enhances the atmospheric aspects of her work– an organically beautiful record. Here is my review in Little Village of Paradise Outlaw.

Bedroom Shrine – No Déjà Vu I had the opportunity to hear part of Bedroom Shrine‘s debut album on the American Dust EP, and there isn’t a better way to describe this record than “dusty.” In my review in Little Village, I said, “a window obscuring its songs with a sooty lo-fi patina. At times, the fluttery tape hiss that drags in the middle of the albums’ tracks add to No Déjà Vu’s complex palette of tone and sound.”

Jack Lion – JAC EP Another record I can listen to any time– it’s a great immersive headphones record for me– jazzy trumpet, bass and drums fused with electronics. Kind of like if Miles Davis met up with Four Tet. The band admits that one of its influences is the Norwegian band Jaga Jazzist, with which it shares some similarities. Here is my review for Little Village for the JAC EP.

Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits – 2014 was the year where Lake Street Dive broke onto national awareness starting with an appearance on The Colbert Report and their update on classic R&B. The connection to Iowa is through LSD’s upright bass player Bridget Kearney, but really they are a Boston band. Here is my review of Bad Self Portraits.

Surf Zombies – It’s a… THING! Local guitar legend Brook Hoover released the fourth album from his instrumental surf band Surf Zombies and his 2nd album with members of The Wheelers and The Blendours helping out. As a long-time fan of instrumental and surf rock I look forward to new releases from Surf Zombies! Word on the street is that they’re about ready to release a new album in 2015! Here’s my review of It’s a… THING! for Little Village Magazine.

 

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