Album Review: Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It

M.C. Taylor went out on a mission: to distill the chaos of the world into some kind of peaceful medicine. And his latest record Quietly Blowing It does that well. A collection of Allman-esque grooves and organ-rich blues, the latest Hiss Golden Messenger record feels like a natural continuation of Taylor’s past work: sonically timeless, but topically very much of its time.

“It’s not exactly a record about the state of the world—or ​my​ world​—​in 2020,” says Taylor about the record, “but more a retrospective of the past five years of my life, painted in sort of impressionistic hues​. Maybe​ ​I had the presence of mind when I was writing ​Quietly Blowing It​ to know that this was the time to go as deep as I needed to in order to make a record like this. And I got the time required in order to do that.” He pauses and laughs ruefully. “I got way more time than I needed, actually.”

Written as the world was crumbling around him, Quietly Blowing It served as a kind of therapeutic project for the previously always-on-the-road songwriter. “Writing became a daily routine,” Taylor explains, “and that was a blast for me. Having spent so much time on the road over the past ten years, where writing consistently with any kind of flow can be tricky, it felt refreshing. And being in my studio, which is both isolated from and totally connected to the life of my family, felt appropriate for these songs.” Between March and June, Taylor wrote and recorded upwards of two dozen songs, before whittling the collection down and bringing them to the Hiss band. In July, the group of musicians went down to Durham, NC, for a week, where they recorded ​Quietly Blowing It ​as an organic unit.

Featuring songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov, songwriter and Tony Award–winning playwright Anaïs Mitchell, multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman, Dawes’ brothers Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, and his oldest musical confidant Scott Hirsch, Quietly Blowing It has quite the all-star cast. And lyrically, it shows. From the opening track’s rallying cry of “Up with the mountains, down with the system,” to the album’s soulful finale paying homage to John Prine (“Handsome Johnny had to go, child…”), Quietly Blowing It feels like a much-needed reflection on this past year. Ending on a redemptive note, Taylor encourages his listener to cheer up a bit. Because although we’re all quietly blowing it, we’re still going to be (more or less) okay in the end.

Musically speaking, Quietly Blowing It feels more like a live set than a studio album – there’s an infectious energy that seeps through the edges of each performance, bleeding from one song to the next. Sonically, the songs don’t exactly stand out from one another, but rather feel like part of a larger performance. And there’s something to be said for that. There’s a magic that comes out in the organic flow of each arrangement, in the chemistry between the group of musicians who have spent years together on the road. As the drums beat on with a lackadaisical ease and the acoustic guitars shuffle along, M.C. Taylor’s baritone croon glues the songs together with a weathered charm.

Sure, all the songs kinda sound the same, but once you come to terms with that, you’ll be singing along in no time, swaying to the loose, easy-going grooves that Hiss Golden Messenger has perfected to a T. 

A timeless folk album saturated in political overtones and kernels of age-old wisdom, Quietly Blowing It is a record to nourish the soul. Although it may not be groundbreaking musically, it sure will make you feel good.

Gemma Laurence