Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Album Review: Hiss Golden Messenger - Bad Debt

Bad Debt - originally recorded in 2010 and released in limited quantities shortly thereafter - is the birth of M.C. Taylor’s Hiss Golden Messenger as we know it today. The rare record with the evocative red hand print was made more scarce by a warehouse fire, but it is now available again with an expanded track list thanks to Carrboro’s Paradise of Bachelors label.

M.C. Taylor recorded Bad Debt on a cassette recorder in his kitchen in Pittsboro where he lived at the time, which explains the most obvious sonic difference between this album and its successors. Bad Debt is stripped bare. This is the skeleton upon which all other Hiss Golden Messenger albums are built. There are no drums, strings, or horns. It sounds distant and faded, like an old tape pulled from a box in the attic.

Six of the 12 tracks appear on other Hiss Golden Messenger albums, but they’re presented much differently here. “Balthazar’s Song” is Poor Moon’s closer. There it’s a slower and more dramatic. Flourishes of strings and piano give it a grandness worthy of closing out that record. On Bad Debt, “Balthazar’s Song” feels more working class that grandiose. The tempo is nearly 20 beats per minute faster and Taylor’s vocal delivery is much more declarative.

Taylor’s tone is far less confident than on Poor Moon or Haw. Bad Debt is the formation of a viewpoint and it’s compelling to hear Taylor develop songs that eventually became powerful and determined.

However, Bad Debt is far more than just demos. The other six songs stand on their own. “No Lord is Free” is possibly the bleakest song in the Hiss Golden Messenger catalogue. “Far Bright Star” is a short burst of love in tribute to Taylor’s young son and only available on this reissue.

Bad Debt is a no-brainer for fans of Hiss Golden Messenger. This prequel is not only unique, but some folks may find they prefer the sparse sound to the rich orchestrations on later albums

Hiss Golden Messenger will play Bad Debt in the Cat's Cradle Back Room on February 21. Tickets are $12.

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