The new album by Hiss Golden Messenger lives up to the promise of its predecessor, writes Scott Stroud of The Associated PressBy SCOTT STROUD Associated PressJune 25, 2021, 5:31 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleHiss Golden Messenger, “Quietly Blowing It” (Merge)M.C. Taylor sounds gorgeously despondent at the outset of his band’s new album, a follow-up to his brilliant 2019 record, “Terms of Surrender.” But before he’s done he has charted his way, musically and lyrically, to a better place.The result is “Quietly Blowing It,” a poignant, often soaring set of anthems for our times.Hiss Golden Messenger’s previous album set a high standard, and the pandemic hit while it was still on a victory lap. So Taylor, the band’s lead singer and mastermind, holed up in his house in Durham, N.C., and wrote songs. Really good songs. By the time he brought them to his fellow band members, he had the makings of a stunning, richly-textured follow-up about navigating through dark times.None of it comes off as wallowing because the music is simply gorgeous. The best songs blend piano and guitar-based melody behind Taylor’s smoothly soulful singing. Songs like “Hardlytown” and “If It Comes in the Morning” are majestic in different ways, with a sound that builds on Taylor’s earlier work but tacks further into rhythm and blues in ways that separate it from the Americana pack.Lyrically, Taylor blends the personal and the political in an understated way. The only misstep, a not-especially-original song called “Mighty Dollar,” can be excused as something Taylor felt he had to include.By the time he gets to the closer, “Sanctuary,” Taylor has figured something out.“Feeling bad, feeling blue, can’t get of my own mind,” he sings as the song opens in a deeply groovy piano-and-bass bop. “But I know how to sing about it.”The song feels celebratory but not unrealistic. There’s acknowledgement that this has all been hard. But the safe place for Taylor, and for listeners who travel with him on the journey, has always been the music.
A journalist’s new book about Appalachia brings rare sensitivity to an often misunderstood subjectBy SCOTT STROUD Associated PressJune 21, 2021, 3:30 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article“Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning” by Alan Maimon (Melville House)In the preface to his new book, Alan Maimon writes that he’s “not here to take shots at J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy,'” but then he eviscerates Vance’s bestseller with stiletto precision.“The message: He made it out,” Maimon writes. “Why can’t the rest of you lazy Appalachians? When we ask this question we misunderstand the region’s problems.”That’s not the only contradiction in “Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning.” Writing about his time as the Hazard, Kentucky, correspondent for the Louisville Courier Journal, Maimon, who grew up in Philadelphia, acknowledges the disdain Appalachians have for outsiders traipsing in to define them and then offers his own assessment. He recounts the flood of journalists descending to explain “Trump country,” then expounds at length on former President Donald Trump’s appeal there.Despite those contradictions, “Twilight in Hazard” paints a more nuanced portrait of Appalachia than Vance did. It shines brightest in describing some of the area’s colorful characters, from longtime Hazard Mayor Bill Gorman to Chris Fugate, who left his job as a state trooper to become a preacher ministering to people he once arrested. They are fully and generously portrayed.Maimon’s exploration of Trump’s appeal feels accurate if not surprising. His takes on poverty, drug addiction and the decline of the coal industry don’t ignore the region’s history of exploitation, not to mention the indifference of its political leaders.The book has its flaws, including minor errors of fact. Maimon bemoans the shrinkage of newspapers, noting its impact on the region, but his account of his own departure from the Courier Journal veers into ax-grinding.In his summation, Maimon serves up one last contradiction.“We’ve been reckoning with these challenges for a very long time, with relatively little to show for our efforts,” he writes. “Perhaps it’s time to have a reckoning with the word ‘reckoning.'”He clearly gets the irony that he’s been doing some reckoning himself.And maybe that’s OK. Intentionally or not, Maimon has written a worthy addition to the collective body of smart rebuttals to Vance’s book, and on some level its contradictions make sense. Appalachia is, after all, a region where beauty and tragedy have long lived together, side by side, with an intensity few other places in America have known.————Stroud is the Appalachia news editor for The Associated Press.