Review by Toni Woodward with Photography by Denise Wilson

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I come in part way through Olivia Chaney’s set and noticeably the audience is incredibly respectful, listening to her portrayal of conventional folk. Her musical education shines through as she competently swaps between guitar and keyboards playing a selection of her own compositions and covers from the likes of Judee Sill. Chaney has an air of awkwardness on stage not dissimilar to the vibe that Meg Baird presents but happily responds to questions about The Decemberists and comments on the impending election, and when she makes an error in the first line of a verse during The Gardener she elegantly tips her head back and continues a bar later. The final track is House On A Hill taken from her latest album, Shelter, a beautifully ethereal number describing her family home and emotional state combined.

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Hiss Golden Messenger is the moniker for MC Taylor’s Americana folk band and he has chosen to embark on this tour as a solo artist, nothing but guitars and humour to entertain. From the outset he lays down his intent with an emotionally wrenching acapella number that encapsulates the audience drawing them forward into his world and it becomes apparent that this will be one helluva set.

Having a such a vast back catalogue means it is tricky for Taylor to construct a setlist, at points asking for requests as he doesn’t want anyone to leave not hearing a song that they desperately need to experience, however he has a list in a notebook from which he begins with Rock Holy. As a lone figure, the sound Taylor is able to produce is enchanting, his skilful means fill the venue whilst his slightly Dylanesque vocals permeate the soul. What is most noticeable is the effectiveness of the subtle chord changes that make so much sense musically.

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The collection of songs are spread over his recording career including a smattering of tracks from Hiss Golden Messenger’s latest album, Terms Of Surrender, which he claims to have been a hard record to write and required the assistance of hallucinogens and a remote property. Taylor has a proficiency at story telling which incorporates laid back humour and an earnest honesty that feeds into your appreciation of his art, joking about releasing the album and a comment on his Insta feed asking him why it is so terrible. Contrary to that comment, his new material receives a positive response including My Wing with its uncomplicated yet eloquent lyrics and the affirming representation of parenthood described in a song for his daughter, Happy Birthday, Baby. Before starting Heart Like A Levee, Taylor asks people to sing along with him and when he reaches the chorus initially no one obliges but a look and a little word of encouragement and most join in the backing vocal line.

Olivia Chaney returns to the stage for an exquisite version of Richard Thompson’s Beat The Retreat that sees the differing qualities of the duo’s vocals complement the song and each other. As the glorious ninety minutes draw to a close, Taylor wishes that everyone has had their emotions touched and are not left wanting and I would propose that he achieved his aim. I sometimes struggle with watching a solo artist perform especially when their recordings include a band, yet tonight Taylor delivered a dynamic show with no need for excess. An elegant stage set up of a bunch of red roses and minimal lighting ensured that his music and presence were the focus on its rawest form.

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