Tag Archive for 'M.C. Taylor'

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.

(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.

12 Releases I’m Looking Forward to in 2012

The month of January was named after the Roman goddess Janus who had two faces.  Like the goddess, January is the month of the year when we both look back on the previous year that is over as well as ahead to the year coming up. I just posted my favorite releases for 2011– here is a list of releases that I’m looking forward to in 2012.

The Right Now – sophomore release (April 21st) – The Chicago R&B group The Right Now has had a pretty great run since their first album Carry Me Home came out in 2010 (which I was the Executive Producer on). They’ve played some pretty great headlining shows as well as opening for many of the bigger R&B acts touring. They flew out to L.A. in 2011 to work with Sergio Rios of Orgone at his studio for their 2nd album. Most of songs for this album have had their fair share of live workout and it shows– as someone who has seen the band a lot over the last year, the new songs have already become standards. The album will be released on Record Store Day.

Jeff Parker – Bright Light In Winter (February 2012) – The guitar-slinger for post rock fountainhead Tortoise is releasing his third solo album on Chicago Blues/Jazz label Delmark. Jeff Parker’s first solo record Like Coping was released on Delmark, with his second solo record The Relatives on Thrill Jockey. Credited as the Jeff Parker Trio, the album will feature Chris Lopes on bass and Chad Taylor on drums.

BTW: Don’t get me wrong– I’m a Thrill Jockey fanboy of the first order, but when was the last Jazz release from Thrill Jockey? (It was Chicago Underground Duo…) Thank goodness for Delmark, or we wouldn’t get these crucial releases from Chicago’s Jazz scene!

Garbage – title TBD (March or April 2012) – I reported on this previously. The new fifth album from Garbage is apparently in the can and mastered. There have been reports of an extensive tour in 2012 as well.

Snow Patrol – Fallen Empires (January 10) – After developing a big crush on the Tired Pony record, I was waiting expectantly for this album as it was produced by Jacknife Lee who also produced R.E.M.’s album Collapse Into Now, and with all of the ties to R.E.M.– Pete Buck was in Tired Pony, Michael Stipe helped Gary Lightbody get through some writer’s block– I was hoping for something great. The first song from Fallen Empires was “Called Out in the Dark” which has an unstoppable beat and build to it. I think that the promise of Tired Pony delivers on Fallen Empires.

Poliça - Give You The Ghost (February 14) – Technically, this album is already out as it is available as digital download from iTunes and Amazon. But, the debut album from GAYNGS lead vocalist Channy Leaneagh’s (formerly Channy Moon Casselle) new band Poliça will be officially released on CD and vinyl on producer Ryan Olson’s record label Totally Gross National Product on Valentine’s Day 2012, complete with sold-out shows at First Avenue. If you are a fan of the vocoder-laiden production of GAYNGS and Bon Iver (Mike Noyce from Bon Iver helps out on vocals on a couple of tracks, too), then you’ll love this album as much as I do! The lineup of two drummers, bass, vocals and keyboards gives the band a very unique sound, but also pretty reminiscent of 90′s trip hop from bands like Morcheeba, Sneaker Pimps and Portishead.

The Pines – Dark So Gold - (January 31) – The third album from The Pines on Red House Records find principal members Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt living in two different cities. This doesn’t prevent them from turning out their best collaboration, yet. I caught three of their shows back in May and their stop at CSPS in September and got to hear songs destined for Dark So Gold, so I was already looking forward to hearing the studio versions of “Cry Cry Crow” and “If By Morning.” Produced again by Benson’s dad, Bo Ramsey. The Pines are kicking off a tour at the beginning of February in support of the new album and will be making stops at CSPS again as well as The Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

Cheyenne Marie Mize – We Don’t Need EP - (January 24) – What started out as a release on My Old Kentucky Blog’s label Roaring Colonel has been picked up by Cheyenne Marie Mize’s new label home YepRoc. I loved her last album Before Lately and managed to catch her at The Mill where she performed the percussion-plus-vocals “Wishing Well” which Consequence of Sound is debuting. You can also check out her Daytrotter session to listen to “Keep It” which is also on the 6-track EP available on 10″ vinyl and digital download.

Jacob Jones – Good Timin’ in Waynestown - (August?) - Jacob Jones is someone my wife and I met in Nashville during an overnight stop on a Monday night with Brendan of The Right Now. We were on a marathon road trip getting the mastering done and dropped off for the vinyl version of Carry Me Home. Brendan insisted we needed to hit this local-yokel  bar called the 5 Spot where they have this over-the-top dance party on Monday nights. This dance party called “Keep on Movin’” is hosted by Jacob Jones and his label partner Reno Bo and consists of mostly 50′s and 60′s country, R&B, garage rock and blues– typically spun on a turntable (though sometimes from a MacBook). The drinks are cheap, the folks are friendly and the floor is packed. Suffice it to say, it was one of the most memorable events we’ve been to, and certainly one of the high-points of the trip.

In addition to purveying this party, Jacob is also a singer/songwriter with a couple of pretty great Americana records under his belt. I introduced blogger Amber Valentine to his music and she wrote this really great review of his last release, which is a free download. When I was pinging folks for releases I reached out to Jacob and he told me about his 2012 release, Good Timin’ in Waynestown which is inspired by the 5 Spot Monday nights! “Good Timin’ In Waynetown” is about the good times. plain and simple,” Jacob told me in a recent conversation, “The songs are for dancing. drop the needle and get to work. The songs are filled with huge sounds of New Orleans and Nashville, Memphis and Mussel Sholes. They are about the finer things in this world like love and having good friends, that’s it, plain and simple.” Indeed, based on the couple of rough mixes he sent, this album has a big sound somewhere between Ray Charles, Chris Isaak, and Lyle Lovett. This release is going to come out on vinyl, too, so that is really exciting! A sure bet for my best of 2012.

The Diplomats of Solid Sound – TBD – I don’t have any details about the third release of Iowa City-Chicago-Austin band The Diplomats of Solid Sound with the Diplomettes other than it was recorded in Iowa City in 2011 and that they played some of the new songs at their gigs leading up to and on New Year’s Eve. I loved their last two albums, so there should be no reason to believe I won’t love this one, too!

Camper Van Beethoven – TBD – News of this release– their follow-up to 2004′s New Roman Times– was delivered with a run of tour dates starting this week. No other details other than this run of winter dates will include some of the songs from the forthcoming record.

Hiss Golden Messenger – TBD – As if  releasing the amazing 1-2 punch of Bad Debt and Poor Moon over the last two years wasn’t enough, M.C. Taylor is planning to come back in 2012 with another album! As part of one of the Poor Moon pre-order bundle he included a bonus digital EP called Lord I Love The Rain that included outtakes and demos, but also had early versions of tracks that will be on the next album. Though we’ll see if this is the next album or maybe another project he hinted at in a recent conversation!

The Horses Ha -TBD – In a recent conversation with Janet Beveridge Bean she told me that James Elkington and she were done recording the follow-up to the debut Horses Ha release The Cathmawr Yards which came out in 2009. I absolutely loved the jazzy folk harmonies from The Horses Ha. You can read my review of The Cathmawr Yards here. Watch my site for updates as I get them!

 

(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!

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

The Court & Spark Extinguished

Bye Bye!
Per their MySpace page announcements, San Francisco band The Court and Spark have announced they are at least for the time being breaking up. To quote their message:

“…seeing as how we’re all involved in different musical
projects, it seems best to retire the C&S name for a while. We’ve had a good
run and have had the good fortune to meet all kinds of wonderful souls as
we’ve stumbled down the road. Thank you one and all for everything you’ve
given us.”

The Court & Spark had a pretty good run releasing four critically praised alt-country/Americana albums and one EP since 1999. 2006′s Hearts album which was reviewed here was a slightly more experimental outing demonstrating the band’s desire to stretch its creative wings a bit. After a quick lap around the country in support of Hearts, the band returned to its Bay-area home and focused its time on more individual efforts with frontmen M.C. Taylor and Scott Hirsh working on their Hiss Golden Messenger project.

Currently Hiss Golden Messenger is playing local shows and focusing on releasing its first album. Be sure to check out their MySpace page to listen to tracks they have posted. It definately sounds like The Court and Spark, but with a more experimental bent. I’m really looking forward to hearing what comes out of this effort.

The Court & Spark will be playing their last show Friday, July 7th at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco along with Hiss Golden Messenger and Kelley Stoltz. Doors are at 8:30PM for this 21 and over show. Admission is $12. A passing of the torch it seems.

The Court & Spark – Hearts (review)


I’ve been following the Court & Spark since I heard an interview segment on NPR back in 2001 around the time of their Bless You release. What I heard at the time was a logical progression from some of the other artists I had been listening to at the time. I was a big Neil Young fan, I liked Son Volt, the Jayhawks, Joe Henry, Jack Logan, and other artists who would unfortunately get lumped into the category of alt.country, or Americana. People love convenient labels, I guess.

Admittedly, the earler records from The Court & Spark (Ventura Whites, and to an extent Bless You) have many influences from the same place as other artists that share that category. Just take a look at the Byrds– were they country, or were they rock? Take a look at Neil Young– is he country, or is he rock, or folk for that matter? Is Tom Petty rock? He certainly can pull in some twang when desired. What about the Eagles? Even Fleetwood Mac with Lindsey Buckingham at the helm recorded a couple of songs that could be called country– check out “That’s Alright” from Mirage. A lot of Clapton’s output in the Seventies sure sounds like country (“Lay Down Sally,” “Promises”). The point here being that good bands and artists get great by stretching their boundaries. The more influences that an artist can draw from, the richer the work.

And, so it is with the Court & Spark’s new album Hearts (released May 2nd). Hearts is the sound of a band that is stretching its boundaries by diving a little more away from their rootsy or folksy sound and more towards a rock sound. In fact, in an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, singer, lyricist and guitarist M.C. Taylor said that they were “being painted into a corner” and that Hearts is a reaction to that.

Hearts is an album that is unique and familiar both at the same time. It has the typical laid-back, mid-tempo feel that all of the Court & Spark records have. There is this underlying darkness that beckons, too. This is the first full-length album recorded by the band at their recording studio The Alabama Street Station. As is typical with bands who finally get their own space– they can spend time on the record without fear of racking up expensive studio time. This extra effort shows in the sometimes subtle, and sometimes not-so subtle sound textures used in the album. The band employs everything from toy pianos on the stomping “Your Mother Was the Lightning” to dulcimers and typewriters. Even with the sound effects on the tracks the album still has a consistent feel. The production values and layers of sound effects are not blips and bloops of electronica, but more classic studio type effects that you’d hear from Smile-period Beach Boys or the Beatles. The whole album sounds like it could have been recorded in 1971– that precarious hangover time after the end of the Summer of Love and the beginning of the next party that would be disco.

The record starts off with “Let’s Get High,” which does a great job of setting the tone for the rest of the record. A mellow, sexy affair with M.C. singing an invitation to “swim down, you’ve got beautiful fins.” This song reminds me of the best work of The The (what the hell happened to Matt Johnson anyway?). Lot’s of layered guitars and horns slathered over a sparce beat that firmly puts M.C.’s voice front and center. Most of this song sounds like it was processed through the spinning speaker of a Leslie. In fact, that effect is used all over the record.

The album transitions to the breezy “We Were All Uptown Rulers” which is included for your listening pleasure thanks to the permission of the band’s management. In typical fashion, it is nearly impossible to tell what this song is about. The only reference to “Uptown Rulers” I could find was a Meters album. The song seems sad and defeatist. Whomever this song is about, his other Uptown Ruler compatriots have been killed off, and he’s the last one. But, he’s standing his ground.

The accordion or melodeon along with the strings and whistling makes “Birmingham to Blackhorse Road We Wandered” sound distinctly Scottish folk. I have to say that M.C.’s lyrics, while obscure, do paint a picture. When he sings “Lay your diamond hand on me, lay your hands on me” I wonder if that means that the narrator’s love interest he “met at the change of the century” is married?

Hearts has four instrumental interludes spread throughout the album. They make for nice spacing between the tracks. The first one following “Birmingham” is “The Oyster Is A Wealthy Beast” takes advantage of bouncing strings under a solo lone violin. In the last 45 seconds it breaks down to the sounds of water lapping on the shore.

Clocking in at six minutes, the following track is the monumental centerpiece to the album, “Capaldi.” I can only assume that this is a tribute to the late Traffic member Jim Capaldi. It certainly sounds like a send-up of a Traffic song with its analog synth and arpeggiated guitar and bass guitar hook coated in fuzzy distortion.

“Capaldi” is followed by “A Milk White Flag”– the second of the four interludes. I notice that these tracks seem to fit together. They have a “music from another room” feel to them. Nice use of reverb. This is followed by “Berliners” which is a slow strumming ballad about what seems like a voyeuristic ghost pining for love of a living girl. Wandering tape noises under the guitars drive home the feeling of loss. We are greeted again by an instrumental called “Smoke Snigals” [s.i.c]. I guess appropriately titled considering the previous track begged for someone to “talk to me!”

When you listen to this with headphones you get to hear M.C. take a breath before starting the next track, “Mother Was the Lightning.” A slapping 2-step beat and tick-tock guitar propels this head-bobber. This song seems to be about a family doomed for disaster sung from the vantage point of a boyfriend. A universal theme, I think. The song winds out with toy piano and claps and Leslie tinged vocals.

“The High Life” starts out as slow waltz of a song that reminds me a bit of the classic “The Night Life.” Around 2:50 the song switches gears to a driving four-on-the-floor with layers of soaring guitars and keyboards that seems more like an early-Seventies progressive track by Yes. This is followed by the last of the instrumentals called “Gatesnakes.” This track is more of an exercise in layering sounds effects over a lone piano track reminding me a bit of Game Theory’s experimentation on Lolita Nation. After two minutes of that we move to the album closer called “The Ballad of Horselover Fat.” This is a spare vocals plus acoustic guitar that layers in other instruments as the song progresses to its chorus of “As a man I fade away.” Horselover Fat is the alter-ego of Sci-Fi writer Philip K. Dick that he used in one of his last novels VALIS, in 1981. I haven’t read this one, but I guess that it deals mostly with Dick’s search to understand God. A nice way to end this album, I feel.

In attempting to break the perception that they were a “country” act, the Court & Spark have recorded their most interesting and complete work to date. It’s time to catch the Spark of these high-heeled boys.

Download “We Were All Uptown Rulers”

Download a Live Version of “Capaldi”

Download a Live Version of “Your Mother was the Lightning”

Band photo by Peter Ellenby

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