HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: BAD DEBT (PoB-11)
N.B.: This record releases on January 14, 2014.
M.C. Taylor recorded this spiritually devastating, austere antecedent to the widely celebrated Hiss Golden Messenger albums Haw (2013, PoB-06) and Poor Moon (2011, PoB-02) direct to a portable cassette recorder at the kitchen table of his pine-entwined home in rural Piedmont North Carolina in 2010. It was the dead of winter and the pit of the financial crisis, a moment when the dire ramifications of debt—in its economic, political, and personal senses—had assumed a rank immediacy and terror for many working people around the world, not least of all in the American South. Taylor, his one-year old boy Elijah sleeping in the next room, was compelled to chart the sacred valences of debt, doubt, and family in fresh ways, in the process stripping bare and reinventing his songwriting idiom. In his own words:
Bad Debt comes from ten dense acres of oak, cedar, and apple trees in Pittsboro, North Carolina, directly south of the Haw River. The house where it was made was built in the early 1970s by a hippie cohort that settled along Brooks Branch; though this may sound like some kind of brag, I offer this to explain just how cold it was during the fall and winter when this record was conceived. Most hippies—except for the most famous one, of course, and probably a few others—are shit carpenters.
The record is about my God: that is, whether I have one, and whether there is a place for me in this world. I don’t go to church, and I am not saved. I can party too. I can do a saxophone now and again, bang the drum. Bad Debt was my revelation, and there are many for whom I’ll never make a record better than this one.
Ruminating on the riddle of faith, a firstborn son, and thorny existential questions large and small, the album laid the lyrical and compositional foundations for HGM's critically acclaimed releases to come. Half of these devotional songs appear elsewhere in the HGM discography in radically reinvented arrangements and permutations—Taylor’s writing practice revealed itself following Bad Debt as essentially iterative, the deliberate enunciation and re-articulation of koans—but they exist here in germinal, psalmic purity and economy, as unadorned and plain and perfectly ragged as the cedar floorboards in that Brooks Branch cabin.
Three years after the destruction of much of the first, CD-only edition of the album in a warehouse fire during the London riots, this deluxe reissue, featuring the original gatefold artwork and a download coupon, restores the stark masterpiece to its intended full song sequence, including three additional songs, one of which, “Far Bright Star,” has never previously been released in any form. (In 2011 Taylor self-released three vinyl editions of 100 each, now collector’s items, on his Heaven and Earth Magic imprint.) This moving, intimate document, until now available only in limited numbers and difficult and dear to acquire in any format, is critical for fans and new listeners alike, providing a retrospective in advance of a new, full-band HGM album currently being recorded for release on Paradise of Bachelors later this year.
Taylor writes lucid, often heartbreaking songs about God and frailty and the passage of time. Bad Debt—rendered, as it was, in a drafty kitchen on a portable tape recorder—is vulnerable and immediate. There are times, listening to it, when I am splayed by its intimacies, made fully prostrate by them. Bad Debt feels like an apotheosis, almost. It is unadulterated in its portrayal of a person desperate for peace. - Amanda Petrusich, The Oxford American
North Carolina songwriter M.C. Taylor doesn’t describe faith as a safe place so much as the destination across some unbridgeable gulf. - The Washington Post
A thing of gentle charm & unmistakable cosmic American beauty. - The Independent (UK)