Hiss Golden Messenger
A1 “Balthazar’s Song” 3:18
A2 “No Lord Is Free” 5:03
A3 “Bad Debt” 2:57
A4 “O Little Light” 4:13
A5 “Straw Man Red Sun River Gold” 3:59
A6 “Far Bright Star” 2:02
B1 “The Serpent Is Kind (Compared to Man)” 3:33
B2 “Call Him Daylight” 3:37
B3 “Jesus Shot Me in the Head” 5:15
B4 “Super Blue (Two Days Clean)” 3:06
B5 “Roll River Roll” 3:17
B6 “Drum” 2:28
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 domestic 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 released three vinyl editions of 100 each, now collector’s items, on his own 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.
- The first widely available release of the landmark album that reinvented Hiss Golden Messenger
- Available on 150g virgin vinyl, in a deluxe, gatefold limited edition, as well as on CD and digital formats
- Vinyl edition includes digital download coupon
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
Intoxicating. His world-weary meditations – on God, demons and, yeah, debt – sound ancient, pulled out of the dirt, yet as immediate as a foreclosure. It’s lean music for lean times.
- Will Hermes, Rolling Stone
In the “evocative-backstory-for-a-home-recorded-folk-album” category, Hiss Golden Messenger’s Bad Debt has a stunner: Years before the first proper Hiss Golden Messenger’s full length, M.C. Taylor sat awake at his kitchen table while his one-year-old slept, privately wracked by anguish and fear over the collapse of the global economy and its consequences. The songs he recorded at that table, directly to cassette, were little efforts at emotional reckoning, prayers he set to tape. Then the CD version of the album was destroyed in a warehouse fire during the London riots, and is only seeing reissue now. That’s some enviable lost-classic baggage. It seems to have arrived on present-day shores untouched, a message in a bottle bobbing serenely on turbulent seas, as simple and immediate as the evening it was recorded… Simultaneously fraught with anxiety and shot through with wondering calm, an emotional cocktail that anyone who’s sat awake while their child sleeps will recognize instantly.
- Jayson Greene, Pitchfork
9/10. It’s an extraordinary set… a lullaby for uncertain times, a moment of sudden clarity in a moving, mystical trip. This is Taylor’s For Emma, Forever Ago.
- Alastair McKay, Uncut
North Carolina songwriter M.C. Taylor doesn’t describe faith as a safe place so much as the destination across some unbridgeable gulf.
- Chris Richards, The Washington Post
A thing of gentle charm and unmistakable cosmic American beauty.
- The Independent (UK)
Bad Debt is an unflinching examination of faith, the self, doubt, rescue, redemption, parenthood, and coming to terms with the intertwining worlds of flesh and spirit. A quiet, stirring, utterly arresting collection by one of our best songwriter/poets.
- Thom Jurek, AllMusic
The recordings are raw and incredibly intimate. When you hear them, you get the same kind of chills you get when you listen to Springsteen’s Nebraska–another great home recording. From the first second, you can hear the sound of the room, caught live onto cassette. You can hear Taylor’s shoe tapping out the beat on the floor. It puts you right in the kitchen with him. Taylor’s voice is arresting, filled with world-weariness, but also hope and tenderness.
- KUTX Song of the Day
Pairs some wholesome country fingerpicking with Taylor’s expressively cracking croon, shakily forecasting good news with a hand-hewn simplicity that feels very not-of-this-time and but also wholly American.
- Emilie Friedlander, The Fader
It’s a crucial record to own. This is Taylor laying himself bare, confronting uncertainty and doubt, but always with an eye away from the darkness, towards a glowing glint of light. These songs, solitary as they are, build towards possibility, towards connection, towards community. Bad Debt isn’t about what you’re saddled with, it’s about what you get when you pay it off the hard way. It’s as rewarding an album for the listener as it seems to be for Taylor in these beautiful performances. It’s an album of second (or next) chances, and now you’ve got yours to hear this record. Take advantage of it.
- Matthew Fiander, PopMatters
8/10. A truly compelling listening experience. These sparse, hypnotic songs sound like they were carved from the soil, slices of elemental Americana storytelling that could have seen the light of day at any point since the early days of the 20th century. Intimate doesn’t begin to cover it: listening to Bad Debt feels like we’re gate-crashing a solitary jam session where someone had secretly left a tape recorder running. Most importantly, the songs are uniformly excellent. Required listening to anyone interested in modern American songcraft.
- Janne Oinonen, The Line of Best Fit
Uncanny. Hiss Golden Messenger will dig deep into the core of you and rattle your bones. But it’s not all about fire and brimstone or religious ramblings; this music is just fundamentally phenomenal. Few songwriters can make songs as dynamic as those on Bad Debt with just an acoustic guitar, but Taylor seems to do so with ease. Whether you’re honing in on the brilliant lyricism or simply soaking in the aural wonders of this minimalistic folk album, there’s plenty to fall in love with about Bad Debt.
- Grant Golden, Paste
Deeply affecting. Clearly the pivotal point of M.C. Taylor’s artistic identity.
- Peter Blackstock, eMusic
Gorgeously intimate folk songs… a lovely little hair-raiser.
- Chris DeVille, Stereogum
Stark, melancholic, and emotional… The bare bones presentation provides the sheath for M.C. Taylor’s poignant, realistic lyricism. A piece of everyman psalmic beauty.
- All Around Sound