Hiss Golden Messenger + Olivia Chaney @ Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, 11th December 2019

Having dedicated a sizeable chunk of 2019 to touring North America, Hiss Golden Messenger finally land upon our shores in promotion of their latest album – ‘Terms of Surrender’ – once more, facilitated by the esteemed Merge Records.

Not since 2014 have Hiss Golden Messenger performed in Birmingham, and it was somewhat bittersweet to learn that this visit would see the incarnate of the band, MC Taylor, make the journey without the full group in tow. Any disappointment is fleeting. The prospect of hearing reimagined versions of songs like ‘Blue Country Music’ in such intimate surroundings is far too much of a mouthwatering proposition to spend too much time lamenting those not in attendance.

Multi-instrumentalist and folk singer-songwriter, Olivia Chaney, is first to the stage where she will perform a plentiful collection of her own compositions, interrupted by the occasional cover of songs gleaned from the catalogues of some of her favoured folk inspirations – most notably, an illuminating version of Judee Sill’s ‘Kiss’. Chaney’s ‘Arches’, taken from her 2018 album ‘Shelter’, is a mournful rumination on the precarious existence of relationships when in limbo and displays a vocal that is the distillation of the classic female folk voicing.

Chaney’s self-penned songs suggest that she loves nothing more than to toil away in innovative tunings and intricate picking patterns, the former she jokingly attests to whilst dutifully preparing her guitar ahead of its next outing. Chaney appears mildly uncomfortable on stage in-between songs as the audience appear a little standoffish at first, only exemplified by the additional seconds it takes to prepare the tunings ahead of the sanctity of song. Any such doubts or insecurities are quickly quelled as the audiences warmth and appreciation grows over the course of the set, demonstrated when Chaney happily chats away to several audience members about her various collaborations.  ‘IOU’ is an easy favourite amongst an impressive collection of material which more than attests to the multiple occasions that MC Taylor will heap praise upon his touring companion during his set later in the evening.

MC Taylor navigates his way through the burgeoning crowd and takes a seat almost on the very lip of the stage, flanked by two Martin acoustic guitars to his left, and to his right, a small table that is home to a large vase of roses; a small silver vessel of some sort; and a tiny notebook from which he will refer to for songs choices that will inform the set,  with ample room left aside for the many audience requests that will be offered up this evening.

Taylor’s presence is very much akin to that of Nick Cave. Whilst projecting a fierce intensity that leaves you under no illusion that this job means the world to him, Taylor is incredibly warm and bursting with funny quips and anecdotal tales that twist and turn their way through the many touring and recording adventures accumulated over the years. Early on in proceedings, Taylor is drawn to call out the mildly annoying squeaking that is audible during the quieter moments of the set. The noise appears to be coming from some half functioning piece of the venues extraction system high up in the rafters, but when drawing our attention to it, Taylor presents a faux concern that his sanity may finally be slipping as he turns to examine the irritant, before turning back to the audience and asking, “Can you hear mice?”. The concern is wryly banished with the line, “Well, as long as you can hear them too, I guess”.

Taylor’s between song topics will shift from the hilarity of being lambasted on social media with a clinical efficiency that can only come from fans writing in english as their second language, to tales of mushroom inspired writing sessions in the remotest parts of Virginia, to the impassioned North Carolina teachers that embraced ‘I Need a Teacher’ as their anthem in their struggles to lobby for greater protection for educational funding.

Though Taylor is a natural raconteur, it is his music that is the star of the show. Despite this being a solo effort, much of the material maintains it’s driving intensity, Taylor’s left hand a force to be reckoned with, propelling the more fervent material through to conclusion. Songs like ‘John the Gun’, ‘Jenny of the Roses’, ‘Jaw’ and ‘My Wing’ are sublime. As is the divine moment that Taylor is backed by the audience on the glorious ‘Heart Like a Levee’. A spine tingling moment and one of many to behold on night where MC Taylor delivered a glittering performance in the starkest of spaces.


Reviewer: Chris Curtis

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