Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor has always been a prolific songwriter. But even for him, releasing Hallelujah Anyhow less than a year after 2016's Heart Like A Levee (which itself was packaged with a bonus eight-song record, Vestapol) is rather impressive. By way of explanation, Taylor told Uncut’s John Mulvey, “These songs felt like they were flying over my head and I reached up and caught them. It was pretty simple in that way. There was an emotional urgency with this collection of music that felt spurred on by what I was seeing and hearing around me, the existential tenor of the winter and spring in my life and the lives of my friends and family.”
Unsurprisingly, the stellar Hallelujah Anyhow often feels like a restless fever dream. Taylor’s elegant lyrics scan like stream-of-conscious poetry: Historical nods and ethereal characters (e.g., Jenny Of The Roses, Rhode Island Red) combine with real-life references, giving the songs a mythical quality. Although Hallelujah Anyhow hints at unrest and feeling lost—“When the poets called for gasoline, I knew my days in the kingdom were numbered,” Taylor sings at one point—the record’s allusions to finding silver linings are stronger. “If it’s up to me, a little love would go a long way,” Taylor sings on “Harder Rain,” while on “Jaw,” he proclaims, “No more dancing like the world’s whipped forever.”
In a further nod to Hallelujah Anyhow’s urgent genesis, Taylor’s mix of alt-country and indie-folk is loose and extroverted. The soul-rock shimmy “Domino (Time Will Tell)” possesses Rolling Stones-esque swagger, courtesy of freewheeling guitars and barnstorming saxophone, while the insistent folk-rock highlight “I Am The Song” boasts repetitive strumming that matches a forceful vocal delivery. Even the songs that hew toward Heart Like A Levee’s stripped-down vibe—the piano-dappled “Caledonia, My Love” and the low-lit folk gem “When The Wall Comes Down”—are more elaborate.
Credit for this goes to Taylor’s expanded cast of collaborators on Hallelujah Anyhow, who bring different timbres and inspirations. New drummer Darren Jessee (Ben Folds Five) joins long-time instrumental foils Bradley and Phil Cook (both of Megafaun), while Skylar Gudasz, Mac McCaughan and John Paul White add their voices to previous harmony providers Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Tift Merritt.
In that same Uncut interview, Taylor stresses that although Hallelujah Anyhow is arriving “so soon after the disastrous U.S. election” it isn’t a “protest record. I don’t really like protest records; I don’t feel like they ever age well, even if their intention is completely righteous, though I know there are plenty of exceptions.” Even if the record isn’t an explicit political protest, it’s certainly reflective of a deliberate choice by Taylor to strive for hope rather than wallowing in despair. In that respect, Hallelujah Anyhow is an unqualified success, and a significant leap forward for Hiss Golden Messenger.