I first met M.C. Taylor—the craggy-voiced patriarch behind Hiss Golden Messenger, the country-rock ensemble he leads out of Durham, North Carolina—in the winter of 2012. There were things I thought I knew about him, narratives I’d brazenly culled from the HGM discography, then four records deep: here was a guy, I figured, who understood something about devastation, redemption. He was dressed in black jeans, a plaid shirt, black boots, and a worn denim jacket, and he spent a good part of that dinner yanking off his baseball cap, pressing his short blonde hair back and to the side, and then hooking the hat back on, tugging the brim lower, obscuring his blue eyes. Taylor can be a welcoming presence, generous and funny and deeply humane, but he is also a person who appreciates and requires certain solitudes. There was something about the way Taylor, a Californian, moved, how he leaned into a wall or exited a room with his shoulders bending slightly forward—not hunched, but reaching—that suggested to me an unknowable inner life, as if he were following a beacon others weren’t privy to. He would later describe his vibe as “a little bit standoffish” (and he was being self-effacing), but I immediately got the sense he didn’t abide much bullshit.
Back then I didn’t know what it was about Taylor’s music that made me feel so much less alone, why it proffered all that solace, why it felt like the perfect articulation of some deep, grown-up restlessness. I still don’t know what it is—not really. But the fact of it remains: he is, to my ears, one of the best songwriters working right now, significant even among the handful who know how to sing about life in a way that feels true to its tumult.
—Amanda Petrusich, 2014