Desert Island Hiss

As I was cycling home from work the other day, I almost called out with the sheer joy of it. It wasn’t properly warm, not even March warm, but there was sunshine, and for a few seconds a kestrel was flying parallel with me, then folded its wings and dived into the field below. Most importantly, once I got through town and turned onto the country lanes, I went for a stretch of 10 kilometres where the only other traffic was on foot. And there were plenty of people around, too, walking and running on roads blissfully free of motor traffic. Quite unusually for me, I wasn’t listening to a podcast as I rode, but I had on my Hiss Golden Messenger playlist. And as I approached one junction, passing some dog walkers and feeling the sun on my face, I decided that the next time I’m on Desert Island Discs, all eight records will be Hiss.

But which eight? Here are the first four…

  1. Saturday’s Song – from Lateness of Dancers (2014).
    I first discovered Hiss thanks to a mention by Tift Merrit, who sang some BVs for them at some point, and the first album I bought was their then-current Hallelijah Anyhow, but it wasn’t long before I was filling in the back catalogue. Lateness of Dancers starts a run of albums that are so good that you simply cannot fathom why they aren’t better known. That clip above, for example, had just 1000 views on YouTube on the day of posting this.

When Saturday comes I’m gonna lose myself
When Saturday comes I’m like everybody else
I might get a little crazy
I’m gonna drink some whiskey
Let me be

2. Jenny of the Roses – from Hallelujah Anyhow (2017)
As I started listening to this music, I didn’t pay much attention to what MC was singing. I just loved the sound of it, and this record put me in mind of other great-sounding records in my collection. I posted about this kind of thing before, but there’s a certain kind of record which just sounds so perfect and comforting. Just occasionally, everything is recorded perfectly and blends together like magic.

Yes, “I’ve never been
Afraid of the darkness.
It’s just a different kind of light.”
Were you trying to tell me something?
Didn’t it rain?
Didn’t it thunder?
O’er ribbons of highway
And you were caught under

3. Domino (Time Will Tell) – from Hallelujah Anyhow (2017)
933 on this one, fact fans. Can you believe it? Me neither. Not the first song in the music universe to be called Domino, and nor the last I expect. Means whatever you want it to mean, I suppose. And I know young people these days don’t really dream of being in a band, but this is the kind of band we need in the world. Forget the big stadium and indoor arena stuff, but think about the medium capacity sweaty club with musicians who can really play. Some of the best gigs of my life have been in such settings. Mean Fiddler, Town and Country Club, even a converted chapel in town near me, where Tift Merritt recorded a live album. Dwight Yoakam, Maria McKee, Jonathan Richman, Larkin Poe… Hiss Golden Messenger. This is what live music should be.

Yes, old Lady Luck on the Gulfport side
Beat it from Memphis to Mobile
Running blind
Yes, running rhymes
Time will tell
I feel like my luck is turning
Yes, Domino
If I fall
Will you bang the drum when I’m burning?

4. Biloxi – from Heart Like a Levee (2016)
Just 299 views on this festival clip. I think this is a great band. Has a little bit of the Tom Petty about it, and has a gift for finding a groove like Fleetwood Mac. I say band. You will notice, watching these clips, that musicians come and go. The only person who you always see is MC. This is something to do with life at the edge of the music business, getting critical acclaim in Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, but then 299 views on the ‘Tube. Hard to categorise, you might say. Country and folk and soul and rock. But actually, country and folk and soul is what rock is, or ought to be. Except people hear the word rock these days and imagine all kinds of noise. Anyway, Hiss self-released two live albums last year, raising money for Durham County Public Schools during the pandemic, helping them feed hungry kids. I’ll post the next four in a day or so.

Say Biloxi
It’s tough all over
Ah, Houston
You scared me sober
But all around my old hometown I was known as a loner
Oh you know I wasn’t lonely, I just liked being alone

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