San Francisco's singer-songwriter Michael "Slim Diamond" Taylor and guitarist Scott Hirsch,
two veterans of emocore group Ex-Ignota, documented on Jammin' On The One (1997),
led the alt-country outfit Court and Spark that released
Ventura Whites (1999), with the 13-minute Sugar Pie in Bed, Bless You (2001), with the eight-minute
Fade Out to Little Arrow and the moving elegy National Lights, Witch Season (2004) and Hearts (2006).
Taylor and Hirsch also played in another alt-country project,
Boxharp, documented on The Tailored Soldier (2001), with North Carolina's producer Scott Solter and singer Wendy Allen.
Despite relocating to, respectively, North Carolina and New York, Taylor and Hirsch
formed Hiss Golden Messenger, continuing in an even more intimate
vein on Country Hai East Cotton (2009).
Hey Diamond sounds like a cross between a sober version of the Grateful Dead and a melancholy Kenny Rogers.
The laid-back country-rock John Has Gone to the Light is a hybrid of
Steely Dan and
Crosby Stills & Nash.
And the album runs the gamut from
the swamp blues Boogie Boogie
to the funereal plantation lament Resurrection Blues,
the dreamy country-western instrumental Instant Light
almost orchestral disco of Watch Out for the Cannonball.
The live EP Root Work (2009) reworks some of these songs, notably a nine-minute version of John Has Gone to the Light.
Their second album Bad Debt (2010) was a solo Taylor album, a very spartan affair
of lo-fi country meditations like Balthazar's Song,
No Lord is Free,
and Jesus Shot Me in the Head.
Taylor rearranged some of those songs on Poor Moon (Paradise of Bachelors, 2011 - Tompkins Square, 2012) and added
the stately Call Him Daylight,
the Dylan-ian Westering,
the charged Super Blue, and tipped his hat at
the Nashville sound in A Working Man Can't Make It No Way.
The seven-song EP Lord I Love the Rain (2012) contains the melancholy
elegy Roll River Roll and (surprisingly) the six-minute psychedelic funk jam Born on a Crescent Moon.
By his standards, Haw (2013), was lavishly produced, but the material is inferior, despite
the martial Red Rose Nantahala
and the rollicking Sweet as John Hurt.
Taylor's music is still anchored in the 1970s on
Lateness of Dancers (2014): there are
echoes of Arlo Guthrie in
echoes of Fleetwood Mac in
and echoes of
in Southern Grammar.
The arrangements are state-of-the-art on
Heart Like a Levee (2016), his stab at the mainstream with
a real band
brothers Phil and Brad Cook and drummer Matt McCaughan).
The result is certainly the most varied collection of his career,
from the sprightly power-pop of Tell Her I'm Just Dancing to
the Dylan-ian and gospel-ish Biloxi,
and then from the feverish soul of As The Crow Flies (the standout)
to the psychedelic funk of Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer.
The longest song, Highland Grace, is another Dylan-inspired meditation,
but with a soulful saxophone and bluesy piano.
The material on Hallelujah Anyhow (2017) is again below the average,
as if it consisted of leftovers from the previous one.
It is hard to salvage any song (perhaps the lively fanfare of John the Gun).
Taylor opted for a loud and aggressive bar-band sound on
Terms of Surrender (2019), but the results are still mediocre.
The notably exceptions are Whip, where the noise rises to the level
of psychedelic distortion, and especially
the surreal funk-soul of Old Enough to Wonder Why.
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