Hiss Golden Messenger signed to Merge Records in 2014 for the release of their fifth album, The Lateness of Dancers. The record marked not only an increase in visibility for the North Carolina-based country rockers, but also a leap forward in the songwriting of bandleader M.C. Taylor. This year’s release of the band’s sixth album, Heart Like a Levee, saw Taylor expand his musical palette even further, adding in elements of funk and psychedelia on several tracks including “Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer” and “As the Crow Flies.” The result is the band’s most interesting, diverse album yet, doubtless in no small part due to Taylor’s decision to commit to music full-time.
The band ended their recent tour with a stop at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, DC. Although they were clearly eager for the break that they had coming, they didn’t compromise on the set list at all, playing 21 tracks over more than two hours. They opened the show with “As the Crow Flies,” and the majority of the setlist concentrated on the two Merge LPs. Highlights included “Biloxi,” the title track (done as a sing-along), and “Tell Her I’m Just Dancing” from the new album, and “Saturday’s Song,” “I’m a Raven (Shake Children),” and “Southern Grammar” from The Lateness of Dancers. Taylor also looked back to two of his pre-Merge full-band albums, playing “Red Rose Nantahala” and “I’ve Got a Name for the Newborn Child” from 2013’s Haw and “Call Him Daylight” and “O Little Light” from 2011’s Poor Moon. The band also played two covers, “Flags and Banners” by Faces, and, opening the encore, “Brown-Eyed Women” by the Grateful Dead (which the band recorded for the recently released Day of the Dead cover album.
For this tour, Taylor has surrounded himself with a particularly strong group of musicians. In addition to long-time musical partner and bassist Scott Hirsch, Taylor also recruited multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook (formerly of Megafaun, who also opened the night with a rousing solo set) playing keyboards and guitars, Ryan Gustafson of The Dead Tongues on guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and Darren Jessee of the Ben Folds Five on drums.