Hiss Golden Messenger pays tribute to, tours alongside English singer/songwriter Michael Chapman
On Saturday, April 21 — Record Store Day — Tompkins Square, the consistently great folk label, issued two songs from Hiss Golden Messenger on a 7-inch single. The A-side, “Jesus Shot Me In The Head” also appears as a standout on the band’s 2011 LP, Poor Moon. The B-side, “Jesus Dub,” is a headlong excursion into deep-groove dub, where a thick bass line and interjecting percussion cut through a wide spacey arrangement that dissects the A-side beyond and reconfigures it into something entirely new. Streams of melodica (a nod to Augustus Pablo, perhaps) meet acoustic guitar interludes and broad-stroked, reverberating guitars. Bandleader M.C. Taylor’s vocal drifts in, fragmented, giving the once straightforward story-song an impressionistic new sheen.
If anyone ever once doubted the depth of Hiss Golden Messenger’s influences matched its breadth, “Jesus Dub” soundly proves them wrong.
On the surface, “Jesus Dub” has little in common with the bulk of Hiss Golden Messenger’s catalog, though. Taylor and company have incorporated some of dub’s open spaces and trippy reverberations, but the songs have remained rooted in folk traditions — mostly of the Southern American variety. But the depth the dub excursions betray is telling when considering the reverence with which Hiss Golden Messenger approaches a song by the English guitarist and singer/songwriter Michael Chapman.
On the Tompkins Square compilation Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman — out May 29 — Hiss Golden Messenger tackles “Fennario,” from Chapman’s 1971 album Wrecked Again. Interestingly, Hiss Golden Messenger manages to be faithful both to the original and to its own sound. Indeed, Taylor’s harmonic resonance on the acoustic guitar owes much to Chapman’s ringing notes, and for this cover, Taylor enlists a full-band and backup singers to bring the arrangement closer to Chapman’s early-70s ensemble. But, in a fitting twist, Taylor’s ensemble swaps Chapman’s string swells for a twangier fiddle-led fill.
Compiled by Chapman’s wife Andru and Tompkins Square’s Josh Rosenthal, Oh Michael places Hiss Golden Messenger in the company of Thurston Moore, Meg Baird, Lucinda Williams, William Tyler, Black Twig Pickers, former Chapman bandmate Rick Kemp, and other artists who share a personal connection or have shared a stage with Chapman.
For Hiss Golden Messenger, the latter distinction rings timely. The compilation’s release will follow closely behind a tour of the UK and Ireland, which finds M.C. Taylor opening for the English icon for a string of dates from April 27 to May 5.
Stream Hiss Golden Messenger’s “Fennario” below. —Bryan C. Reed