Since mothballing his S.F.-based cosmic cowboy band, The Court & Spark, then moving to N.C. and reconstituting as the semi-solo vehicle Hiss Golden Messenger, MC Taylor has released four superior roots-based rock LPs since 2009. But mistaking these, including the latest, for trad country or folk rock becomes folly as soon as the needle drops. Everything from orchestral strings, lush keys, banjo and pedal steel, fiddle, mandolin, horn fanfares, and a tapestry of sensual guitar layers envelop Taylor's straightforward songs in rich, rewarding textures.
Focusing thematically on the search for spiritual meaning (c.f., the gorgeous shuffle "Jesus Shot Me in the Head"), the music's pedigree reflects a similar yearning to get past the surface of things. Ergo crate-digger influences like: the warm atmospherics of Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden; the autumnal melancholy of Liege & Lief Fairport Convention; the stoned mystic vibe of Topanga Canyon twang; horn breakdowns a la early '70s' Traffic; Al "Blind Owl" Wilson's boogie flavors, etc.
When all cylinders fire, the results transcend. The twangy rocker "Westering" — maybe the best thing Taylor's ever composed — surges between melancholic guitar fills and storm-clouds of organ-swell catharsis, as Taylor's laconic vibrato weaves through maelstrom-metaphors of doubt and awe-inspired conviction. On "Under All the Land," over capo'd strums and forlorn pedal steel, he ponders what love and forgiveness really are, singing "it's hard to tell which are Kings and which just men/so let 'em in, let 'em in, let 'em all in." In the end, what emerges supplies no answers beyond the music — and, frankly, that'll do.