Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

Hiss golden messenger let the light of the world open your eyes

Limited edition on black vinyl. North Carolina folk rockers Hiss Golden Messenger re-record two of their original songs, “Cat’s Eye Blue” (from their critically acclaimed 2019 album Terms of Surrender) & B-side “Standing in the Doorway” at Spacebomb Studios with contributions from their in-house orchestra.I t’s the latest in the Alive at Spacebomb Studios series.

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Released June 26th, 2020

M.C. Taylor: lead vocals, electric guitar, tambourine
Cameron Ralston: electric bass
Pinson Chanselle: drums, tambourine
Alan Parker: electric guitar
Daniel Clarke: piano
Angelica Garcia: background vocals
Kenneka Cook: background vocals
Erin Rae McKaskle: additional background vocals on “Cat’s Eye Blue”
Matt Douglas: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone

Violins: Adrian Pintea, Stacy Matthews, Meredith Riley, Treesa Gold
Violas: Molly Sharp, Wayne Graham
Celli: Jason McComb, Stephanie Barrett
String arrangements by Trey Pollard
Strings contracted by Treesa Gold

recordstore day

When M.C. Taylor moved to North Carolina more than a dozen years ago now, Hiss Golden Messenger was his private enterprise, an outlet for the curious songs he composed quietly at his kitchen table in the country. But soon after Taylor and his budding family moved to a modest home nestled back from busy roads in the gentle Durham hills, he began building a network of local aces, all sympathetic to songs that documented his quest to be a better human being. Hiss Golden Messenger became and remain a community endeavor, an indelible part of North Carolina’s historic and contemporary musical fabric. The 15 songs of Forward, Children: A fundraiser for Durham Public Schools students are an instant illustration of that decade-long arc, a one-night snapshot of Hiss Golden Messenger’s metamorphosis from solitary songwriter fare to full-band jubilee.

Just days into 2020, the quintet—well-rested from a holiday respite after a busy 2019 that included some 60 shows across the United States and the release of the gripping Terms of Surrender—loaded into their home region’s legendary hub, Cat’s Cradle, for a two-night stand. For nearly 90 minutes, they smoke, sorting through the greatest hits of the Hiss Golden Messenger songbook with the intuition of a band that accepts these tunes as gospel but plays them with the verve of five folks delighted to be back on the same stage.

Lifted by trombone and organ, “Highland Grace” sounds here like a prayer for the salvation of love. Buttressed by bounding piano, “Saturday’s Song” feels like a relief anthem for these fraught times, a beaming reminder of celebration and communion. Drifting and then roaring, “When the Wall Comes Down” is an urgent reminder that catastrophe and humanity know no arbitrary borders, that we are all forever bound to one another. During “Jesus Shot Me in the Head,” they unravel into a cleansing 12-minute upheaval, the sound of self-doubt looking for the relief of resolution—and finding it, at last.

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The son of two teachers, Taylor taught for a spell at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, arguably the nation’s first public university, after finishing his graduate degree there, joining one of the country’s proudest educational lineages. His wife, Abby, is now an ESL instructor in Durham, and his children, Elijah and Ione, are in the fifth and first grades there, respectively. In mid-March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Durham Public Schools closed like most others nationwide, at least through mid-May. The necessary move means that many children throughout the school system don’t know where they’ll get their next meal, a profound failure of our social safety network but a profound opportunity for our collective help. All profits from Forward, Children will benefit the Durham Public Schools Foundation. “It’s my duty as a dad of students and the spouse of a teacher,” Taylor says, “to give what I can.”

Forward, Children is not just the sound of a great band at work, which it surely is. And it is not just the sound of the community that helped create Hiss Golden Messenger coming together to hear what it’s made in a homecoming of hundreds. It is, all told, the sound of communion, blessedly preserved to tape for times like these, when we need any communion we can get. One of the best American bands out there right now.

Released March 27th, 2020
The Band:
M.C. TAYLOR — Guitars & Singing
PHIL COOK — Keys, Guitars & Singing
CHRIS BOERNER — Guitar
ALEX BINGHAM — Bass Guitar & Singing
AL SMITH — Drums & Percussion
EVAN RINGEL — Trombone
BILLIE FEATHER — TambourineMany thanks to all who generously helped in the creation of this album, including Luc Suer, Chris Boerner, Brent Lambert at The Kitchen, Merge Records, the venerable Cat’s Cradle, Grayson Haver Currin, and Darryl Norsen. Love to the amazing Hiss crew for keeping the literal and figurative wheels on the bus: Jocelyn Romo, Ellowyn Kane, Carly Bingham and Billie Feather. Thanks to Brian Schwartz, Rachel Miller, and the whole 7S family, and to Adam Voith.
Hiss Golden Messenger is proud to support the Durham Public Schools Foundation.
All proceeds from this album support students in the Durham Public Schools system.

The Mount Moriah frontwoman’s solo debut. streaked with warm, yet wistful, Americana hues, it glowed throughout 2018. we’ve fallen even harder for her follow-up, ‘eno axis’.

Sonically, it’s an album shaped enormously by the atmosphere it was recorded in – the crew’s synergy & positivity, the proximity & presence of a band in a room playing with intention. structurally, it’s a group of songs inspired by the colours & tones of open tunings, by the sacrality of space & instinct. Stylistically, it’s folk-rock leaning into its curious experimental side & moved by the spiritual rawness of classic soul & the simplicity of earnest pop.

Narratively, H.C. McEntire’s Eno Axis is about finding direction in the natural world, and following love. Sonically, it’s an album shaped enormously by the atmosphere it was recorded in – the crew’s synergy and positivity, the proximity and presence of a band in a room playing with intention. Structurally, it’s a group of songs inspired by the colours and tones of open tunings, by the sacrality of space and instinct. Eno Axis feels like a confident and mature step forward from her debut album Lionheart – in tone, arrangement, production, and spirit.

Stylistically, it’s folk-rock leaning into its curious experimental side and moved by the spiritual rawness of classic soul and the simplicity of earnest pop.

‘eno axis’ feels like a confident & mature step forward from her debut album ‘Lionheart’ – in tone, arrangement, production & spirit. for fans of courtney marie andrews, margo price. joan shelley, first aid kit, the be good tanyas.

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Releases August 21st, 2020

Produced by H.C. McEntire, Luke Norton, and Missy Thangs
Lyrics by H.C. McEntire except where noted

Performed by:
H.C. McEntire (vocals, guitar)
Luke Norton (guitars, keys, backing vocals)
Casey Toll (bass)
Daniel Faust (drums, percussion)
Nathan Bowles (banjo)
Allyn Love (pedal steel)
Mario Arnez (backing vocals)
Justin Morris (backing vocals)

Endless gratitude to Merge Records, Missy, Sarah, all our families and friends and animals.

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The burden of great expectations weighs heavily on American Aquarium leader B.J. Barham. He worries about overcoming the addiction-plagued ghosts of his gene pool, the small-town strictures of his home and the toil of the road. He doesn’t want to let down his bandmates or fans, his wife or family. These troubles define his lyrics, and for the first time, he sings as though he’s trying to be no one but himself. Aided by a team of imaginative producers, the band steps up, wrapping his words in a sort of art-country glow that’s afraid neither to be simple nor sophisticated. For years, the road-loving American Aquarium has been a popular, club-filling band; “Lamentations” is the first guarantee they can be a great one, too. Absolutely a heart-crushing, beautiful songs!!.

American Aquarium have always been great at catering to both the outlaw and pop side of the alt country spectrum. Lamentations takes it to the next level in terms of song writing, heartfelt relevance, and anthemic hook. The production is magnificent and BJs vocals have never sounded so crisp and gritty
released May 1st, 2020

Produced by Shooter Jennings

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Members: BJ Barham-Vocals/Rhythm Guitar, Ryan Johnson-Lead Guitar, Whit Wright-Pedal Steel, Bill Corbin-Bass, Kevin McClain-Drums, Colin Dimeo-Lead Guitar

All songs written by BJ Barham
American Aquarium Music

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Look, I’m easy to please. Give me a banjo (bonus points for claw hammer!), a husband-wife harmony duo and a song about waiting for the “coffee to brew” and I’m happy. And so begins The Yoke is Easy, the Burden Is Full, the peacefully pensive new album from North Carolina old-time group Chatham Rabbits, aka married duo Sarah Osborne McCombie and Austin McCombie.

The footage in this video is from the film The High Lonesome Sound (1963) by John Cohen, and is being used with permission by Folkstreams. We chose these specific scenes because they inspire us deeply. Community and music are depicted as essential to life.
The text is an animation made from Kelley Will’s hand-lettered font based on an old wood-type specimen from the turn of the 20th century. We hope this song, both its triumphant melody and hopeful lyrics bring you hope as we continue to lean on each other in the midst of Covid-19.

You can certainly hear the echoes of Chatham Rabbits’ predecessors here: Over the Rhine, The Civil Wars, Mandolin Orange and other bands who were/are bound in matrimony as well as music. But Chatham Rabbits’ back-porch ballads land in a lighter and different way—there’s very little production clouding their rushing harmonies, clear as a mountain stream, and crunchy Applachian jams (We named “Oxen” as one of the best folk songs of the year so far). The Yoke (which arrived on May 1st) is a stable album with few peaks and valleys, but I’ve found its steadiness to be oh-so-very comforting during an otherwise choppy time. That aforementioned first song is album opener “Clean Slate,” a pretty poem about “the innocent youthful glow” of mornings, “the best part of the day.” As a recovering night owl, this is a sentiment I probably wouldn’t have jiived with a couple of years ago.

With a cool May breeze drifting through the open window, “Clean Slate” sounds like a pretty excellent way to think about the time of day that could be viewed as just another daily reminder of our habitual new tedium.

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My new song, “Hey Moon,” is out everywhere now. I often find myself talking to the moon. Maybe it’s just my Cancerian nature or maybe it’s something everyone does. But it feels grounding to have that constant presence throughout life. In my years of traveling around and finding myself in strange or unknown places, it’s been a sort of anchor to look up at the familiar light. I wrote this song about looking inward through conversing with the moon, or the emotional self. Something that seems easy to forget to do in times like these.

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releases June 26th, 2020

All songs wrote by Ryan Gustafson Recorded at the Fidelitorium and Bettys

Performed by:
Ryan Gustafson – vocal, guitars, harmonica, synths, Alex Bingham – Bass, Standup Bass, Ryan Oslance – Drums, Percussion, Brevan Hampden – Conga, Percussion, , Drew Anagnost – Cello, James Wallace – Piano, Organ, Molly Sarlé – Vocal, Amelia Meath – Vocal, –Alexandra Sauser-Monnig – Vocal,-Josh Moore – Vocal,

From The Dead Tongues forthcoming album Transmigration Blues, out 6/26 via Psychic Hotline

“There’s no handbook for releasing an album in the middle of a global pandemic. But if any band is ready to adapt, we’re that band.”

BJ Barham is sitting in his home in North Carolina, taking a break from packing mailers of his band’s new record, Lamentations, which comes out this Friday. This marks American Aquarium’s eighth studio album and Barham seems at peace — as much as one can be — with celebrating a new LP during this unprecedented crisis.

“The country is in a weird spot, a lot of people are struggling,” he says. “A lot of people are out of work. People need these kinds of distractions. Instead of taking it away and putting it out when it might be better to put out an album, we’re going to go ahead and release it. We’ve worked too hard on this record and we believe in it. If there’s ever a time to release a record like Lamentations, it’s right now.”

There is a prophetic voice that guides the new album. Though it was recorded in December, Lamentations features 10 tracks that highlight the things that can break humanity, including financial loss, political strife, and death. “If COVID-19 never happened, this record would still be just as effective,” Barham says, though there is no sense of joy in this statement. “Loss is not something that only happens during a disease or once every 100 years. On a daily basis, people are having to deal with the themes of this record.”

He takes a breath. “But throw in a global pandemic, and this album really hits home for a lot of people.”

Prayers of lament are some of the most common prayers found in the Bible; there’s an entire book that shares a name with American Aquarium’s new record. In Western society, though, individuals prefer to lift their voices to their respective gods with more self-serving prayers. But when one laments, one simply cries out in grief with no goal other than giving a voice to injustice and suffering.

“The dictionary’s definition of lament is simply an extreme expression of sorrow or grief,” Barham says, “but look at the biblical version. There is a central character who cries out to God, who questions the very existence of God, because God has turned his back on this man and this man’s country. I saw a lot of parallels between questioning God’s existence because of political turmoil and what we’re experiencing. That’s originally where I got the idea for Lamentations.

Out of that, Barham put pen to paper and wrote what would turn into the title track and opener of the record, “Me and Mine (Lamentations).” Over the course of seven minutes, the band creates an atmosphere like nothing that’s ever been recorded by American Aquarium, an almost ambient space that builds into a freakout crescendo, all in support of Barham’s devastating lyrics of deception, disappointment, and demise as he laments what’s become of the American Dream.

“You can tell where I was when I wrote that song,” he admits. “It’s very much me standing up for what I believe in, standing up for the people who I think are being misrepresented and bamboozled.”

Barham is no stranger to being public about his opinions, but there’s something that resonates deeper than just politics on Lamentations. Maybe it’s the grief that saturates the opening track, or the autobiographical struggle with life after sobriety found on “Six Years Come September,” featuring one of Barham’s favorite lines on the whole album: “I’ve been cursed with this clarity.” It might be the all-too-real heartache of “The Day I Learned to Lie to You,” as Barham sings, “I know good and well that I’m going straight to hell / For all the things I put you through / My biggest regret in life, the thing that keeps me up at night / The day I learned how to lie to you.”

But whatever that something is, it resonates most powerfully on the flawless “A Better South.”

“There are so many people who sit around and talk about how good our country could be, especially in the South,” he explains. “But nothing’s going to change until we all go out and put our thoughts into action.”

Barham cites Patterson Hood and Drive-by Truckers as inspirations for living with a love-hate relationship with the South. “They’ve always been really great at talking about that duality,” says Barham, who grew up in the central North Carolina small town of Reidsville. “You love the culture, food, music, and people, but you also hate the dark history, having to come to terms with the fact that most of our great-grandparents were racists and bad people. Don’t get me wrong, in the last 50 years or so, we’ve made some progress, but then you see us every now and then take two steps back. If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that we like to pretend that the South sees everything through these rose-colored glasses — ‘We killed racism, it’s done, there’s no more hate in the South.’ … Well, that is, until you have a politician who tells you it’s okay to talk about your hate. Then all of a sudden you see this disgusting underbelly of something that I love.”

A self-professed “progressive redneck,” Barham realizes he doesn’t fit comfortably into any political category. “I don’t believe in big government. I believe in the 2nd Amendment, but I also believe in equal rights and a woman’s right to choose,” he says. “I’m not liberal enough for my liberal friends and I’m not conservative enough for my conservative friends, and you know what? I think that’s most of the country.” “A Better South” is Barham’s attempt to lament this reality while standing up for his Southern pride. “The only dream that ain’t worth having, is the one you won’t chase down,” he sings on the stunning track. “They say sing your songs, boy, and shut your mouth / But I believe in a better South.”

When he hears those lyrics read back to him, there’s a genuine sense of frustration with wanting to live up to the song’s theme. But his frustration doesn’t end with grief; it points toward hope.

“When you tell somebody that you’re a proud Southerner, they think you’re flying a Confederate flag and screaming, ‘South’s gonna rise again!,’” he says. “That’s not what it’s about. Being a proud Southerner is knowing what we could be and not just talking about it, but putting that talk into action.”

Sorrow and struggle aren’t abstract themes on Lamentations; they were very real for Barham as he prepared to record. Two weeks before heading to Memphis to make the album, Barham learned the original producer was backing out. “We got told they had a gut feeling that it wasn’t a right fit for them,” Barham says. “As a writer, that took a huge toll on me. Are the songs not good? I sent these people “Me and Mine” and “The Day I Learned to Lie to You,” what I consider some of my best writing in a very, very long time, and they told me it wasn’t a good fit.”

For the next week, Barham found himself practicing the very thing his new album would be named after. Sitting in confusion and grief, he began to question whether this was even the album he was supposed to be making right now. But in that lament, a glimmer of hope burst into flames. “My booking agent called me and asked if I would have any interest in working with Shooter Jennings,” Barham says, replaying how his jaw hit the floor when he received that call. As fate would have it, Barham’s booking agent represents Jennings.

“When it popped up on my radar, before even listening, I said I’d love to,” Jennings says about being thrust into the producer’s seat for Lamentations. A fan of American Aquarium since he first heard 2012’s Burn. Flicker. Die., Jennings still keeps “Abe Lincoln” in his weekly listening rotation. “When I heard the songs, they really had a profound impact on me emotionally. I could feel it already, and I knew we would be able to make a slamming record together.”

Though Barham still wanted to record in Memphis, Jennings suggested he and the band come to his home turf in Southern California instead to record at engineer David Spreng’s studio.

“It was really weird to take this record, which in my mind was a Memphis record, to Southern California,” Barham confesses. “But we couldn’t have made this record in Memphis. It definitely has that Southern California vibe to it, and Shooter added the Shooter touch. He’d say, ‘Well, what if we do a Paul Simon drum thing and then give it a Latin feel and have these experimental Pink Floyd guitars and then we double down the vocals and then we turn the pedal steel into a theremin for a second?’ And luckily for me, I have a band that is all on the same wavelength and could do everything Shooter was hearing in his head.”

That band is made up of guitarist Shane Boeker, Rhett Huffman on keys, pedal steel player Neil Jones, percussionist Ryan Van Fleet, and bassist Alden Hedges, and Barham proudly calls Jennings the seventh member of American Aquarium, an accolade the producer humbly accepts.

“It’s really easy to make music with people who love music,” Jennings says, “and BJ is somebody that has a fire in his eyes and his belly to be greater and stronger and more introspective with each record. I always feel really fortunate to be able to be inserted into a well-oiled working dynamic. With American Aquarium, I got to stay in the control room and really work with every member of the band with a clear head. With such a powerful live band, it was really fun just to be the guy in the back of the room rooting on the dissonant moments of the music.”

Six months later, Barham is still in a bit of awe as he recounts the twisty path that led to being in the studio with Jennings.

“To go from that kind of valley to having the hottest producer in music right now? Talk about an emotional roller coaster,” he confides. “Shooter wasn’t doing us a personal favor. He loved our songs and he wanted to make a record.” Jennings concurs.

BJ and that band and I will be lifelong friends after this whether we do more projects or not. I’m very proud of what we did.”

Lamentations is leveling-up in moral courage and fearlessness on Barham’s part as a songwriter and bandleader, and it’s a level of musicianship that has never existed in American Aquarium’s storied discography. Thanks in large part to Jennings, all of those things come together for a career-defining, unforgettable masterpiece.

“It’s a collective consciousness between all the members of the band,” Jennings explains, “and my job is to kind of steer the plane into the storm while everyone else is doing what they need to do to keep the engine running and all the passengers calm. BJ is excellent at this, and he’s just a really funny, charismatic guy. His enthusiasm for the record is that rocket fuel, and all I have to do is take off, have a few drinks, and land the thing safely ahead of schedule and on budget. Some of that slips, but sometimes it all comes together into something really special..

The new album ‘Lamentations,’ available May 1st

This tour existed only to exist, not to promote a new album or celebrate a milestone. No, Sylvan Esso simply wanted to do something fun. For themselves, for their fans, and for us, their friends, who got easily roped into being in the ten piece band. We were all sent the song list in advance, with just a few written ideas of what some of us could do on each song, but largely it all remained open for interpretation and when we convened in the house to rehearse in Durham for the first time. On the first day we played the song “Wolf,” checking the pulse of the band, how would we sound together, how would we arrange together, and how much homework did everyone actually do? The first take of that song put everyone immediately at ease and also turned up the temperature. Because it went really well. We knew how good this could sound, how different it could be from the original recordings and how special that would feel for the crowd, and for us. “Wolf” ended up being the first song in the set. “Wolf” became the anchor, before the rocket ship would take off each night. Yes I know I made a boat analogy early. And now I’ve shifted to space. That’s an accurate representation of how this show ended up.

The first four days we would just keep chipping away at songs, written on a large piece of butcher paper on the wall in fat marker, and we’d cross them off one by one as we hit them. The first day was a dream because we learned five songs and they all sounded great. The second day was impossible, because we had to learn five more songs, and then suddenly the songs from the first day weren’t so perfect anymore. That’s the big problem with getting better. Your ceiling goes up, the standards rise, and the goods can always keep improving, which means, in more pessimistic terms, it can always also keep sounding worse. There were twenty songs to learn, so there was a lot of bucking and bobbing back and forth between feeling over-confident and supremely challenged. Sometimes that had to do with how hungry we were.

After the family style rehearsals concluded, we headed to Los Angeles for tech rehearsal. To get there involved thirteen of us, band and crew, flying on an airplane. Thirteen people each checking three bags. Thirteen people moving through the airport together is insane. It’s like a school trip. Sometimes, you know, you’re flying alone you’re at a gate and realize there’s a school trip there too, and you think “oh fuck, a school trip!” This was like that, except the kids on the trip don’t think “oh fuck”, they think “fuck yeah, a school trip, fuck yeah a Hudson News it’s peanut m&m time” and so on, and that’s exactly how it was for us. The airport is almost great with that many friends. Almost.

After the tour was done Nick and Amelia remarked on how ridiculous it was that we didn’t do any warm-up shows, how insane it was that we jumped into the fire at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry designed space for the LA Philharmonic where a portion of the audience sits behind you. But we did it. For over two thousand people on night one, we did it, and we did it surprisingly well. We had our expectations set to cautious, because sometimes the first show can be a true disaster, it almost is supposed to be, but everyone cared so much and worked so hard and the stakes felt so high that somehow a meltdown just didn’t happen. Somehow there were zero disasters. Some nights the band felt more on than others, but we knew that the caliber of the show was always at a high enough level to be proud of, and so we’d go to sleep with the songs looping in our heads, and try it again the next day.

The spaces were wild. I’d never been a part of a show in such beautiful rooms, for such large and welcoming audiences. The Beacon Theater was a dream, the Ryman Auditorium even more so. We could really feel the shape of that room when we played there, and afterwards we rolled out the back door into Robert’s Western World to watch the best living country musicians do it right and proper and we would while we were awake enough to dance. That was the very best night of tour, from start to finish, without a doubt.

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The last two shows were homecoming shows in Durham, at the very large and official-feeling DPAC, which is short for ‘Don’t Play A Crappynotethisisbeingfilmedforofficialrelease’. This was a proper performing arts center, a little different feeling from the classic theaters, and these were the shows that were filmed for what you’re seeing here and now. I’m excited to watch it just so I can see the light show from the front. We were so sad when it ended but there wasn’t a formal goodbye. Folks trickled off to go home, and a bunch of us watched a movie the next day. It’s implied that we will be together again, we’re just not sure how or when. Those of us who don’t live in North Carolina feel ourselves threatening ourselves to move there, but I don’t see it happening for me. I like being called to serve and being swept into the vortex, then returning home to wait for the next vortex to assemble. See how I’ve moved from space to vortexes? It’s like I don’t know how to describe my feelings properly anymore. Or maybe it’s just time for this to end, for now.

released April 24th, 2020

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It’s been four years since the last Elvis Depressedly full-length, 2015’s New Alhambra, but there’s been no lack of new music from Mat Cothran. He’s released two solo albums in that time, 2017’s Judas Hung Himself In America and last year’s My First Love Mends My Final Days, and he’s wrapped up his Coma Cinema project with Lost Memory. But now the North Carolina-based musician is returning to his Elvis Depressedly moniker this year with a new album called Depressedelica.

“I wanted to experiment and try new things and do weird shit and fail,” Cothran said in a press release. “Everybody’s so scared to fail these days because everybody’s trying to keep up with everybody else on social media, but I just reached this point where I realized that none of it mattered. I’m not trying to pretend I’m too cool to care — I genuinely hope people love the music I’m making — but ultimately all that I wanted to do was make something that I loved, and there was real freedom in that.”

Depressedelica first single is “Jane, Don’t You Know Me?,” which wraps guitars around pitch-shifted vocals, a drum machine, and a persistent barking. There’s a sense of well-worn history, of disappointment and regret and a heavy weight. “I am tangled up in our past/ I am falling off the wagon,” Cothran sings. “On and off the wagon, crazy for you.”

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released April 10th, 2020

When M.C. Taylor moved to North Carolina more than a dozen years ago now, Hiss Golden Messenger was his private enterprise, an outlet for the curious songs he composed quietly at his kitchen table in the country. But soon after Taylor and his budding family moved to a modest home nestled back from busy roads in the gentle Durham hills, he began building a network of local aces, all sympathetic to songs that documented his quest to be a better human being. Hiss Golden Messenger became and remain a community endeavor, an indelible part of North Carolina’s historic and contemporary musical fabric. The 15 songs of Forward, Children: A fundraiser for Durham Public Schools students are an instant illustration of that decade-long arc, a one-night snapshot of Hiss Golden Messenger’s metamorphosis from solitary songwriter fare to full-band jubilee.

Just days into 2020, the quintet—well-rested from a holiday respite after a busy 2019 that included some 60 shows across the United States and the release of the gripping Terms of Surrender—loaded into their home region’s legendary hub, Cat’s Cradle, for a two-night stand. For nearly 90 minutes, they smoke, sorting through the greatest hits of the Hiss Golden Messenger songbook with the intuition of a band that accepts these tunes as gospel but plays them with the verve of five folks delighted to be back on the same stage.

Lifted by trombone and organ, “Highland Grace” sounds here like a prayer for the salvation of love. Buttressed by bounding piano, “Saturday’s Song” feels like a relief anthem for these fraught times, a beaming reminder of celebration and communion. Drifting and then roaring, “When the Wall Comes Down” is an urgent reminder that catastrophe and humanity know no arbitrary borders, that we are all forever bound to one another. During “Jesus Shot Me in the Head,” they unravel into a cleansing 12-minute upheaval, the sound of self-doubt looking for the relief of resolution—and finding it, at last.

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The son of two teachers, Taylor taught for a spell at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, arguably the nation’s first public university, after finishing his graduate degree there, joining one of the country’s proudest educational lineages. His wife, Abby, is now an ESL instructor in Durham, and his children, Elijah and Ione, are in the fifth and first grades there, respectively. In mid-March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Durham Public Schools closed like most others nationwide, at least through mid-May. The necessary move means that many children throughout the school system don’t know where they’ll get their next meal, a profound failure of our social safety network but a profound opportunity for our collective help. All profits from Forward, Children will benefit the Durham Public Schools Foundation. “It’s my duty as a dad of students and the spouse of a teacher,” Taylor says, “to give what I can.”

Forward, Children is not just the sound of a great band at work, which it surely is. And it is not just the sound of the community that helped create Hiss Golden Messenger coming together to hear what it’s made in a homecoming of hundreds. It is, all told, the sound of communion, blessedly preserved to tape for times like these, when we need any communion we can get.

released March 27th, 2020