Hiss Golden Messenger: Country Hai East Cotton

By: Dennis Cook

True spirituality comes to us slowly. Despite books and mouth pieces that promise instant satisfaction and understanding, offering us checklists and comfy platitudes, one rarely gets to the real nutmeat of the human condition and its relation to the divine without long cogitation. Rarer still is rock that actively engages “The Big Picture” without sounding like a damn New Age bookstore soundtrack. But, there is Hiss Golden Messenger, who dip a twig down into ontological anthills, nibbling at the crawling wisdom they pull up and spitting it out with sticky, effervescent insight. Born from under-sung S.F. great The Court and Spark, this now bicoastal aggregate is like a blue-eyed answer to Niyabinghi music, observing, “The truth is that we’re here and then we’re gone,” yet still knotting their talented fingers into something celestial, folkloric and deep paired with a sparkling, enormously easy to like musical feel that draws freely from ’60s English folk, Meddle era Pink Floyd, Jamaican strains, Winwood-esque pastoral jazz-rock and more.

You don’t know where this is going. Trust me on this. As opener “Hey Diamond” oozes from the speakers you cannot see the sharp turn into horn punctuated, lacerating reggae-rock waiting near the end nor how wonderfully it works as a lively coda to the atmospherics that precede it. Similarly yet incongruously effective is the transition to the ’60s orchestral style balladry of “Isobel” from the one-drop rich percussion cloud of their fab cover of Tim Rose’s “Boogie Boogie.” While many bands strive for individuality HGM actually carves unique cheekbones and flesh tones throughout this debut. Imbued with inspired horn stabs and string strokes, each song has its own weight, its own character, but still hangs together in the end as the work of a single entity driven by some echo-wide internal logic that allows much to be packed into their spaces.

Painstakingly assembled over a couple years, Country Hai East Cotton (Heaven & Earth Magic Recording Company) shows attention to detail in all regards – packaging, arrangements, production, vocals, everything. Anchored by singer-songwriter-guitarist J.L. Diamond and multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsch, HGM is empathetically aided by Mother Hips John Hofer (drums) and Tim Bluhm (guitar, vocals), keyboardists Patrick Main (Oranger) and Matt Cunitz (Mushroom, John Vanderslice), pedal steel player Tom Heyman (David Dondero), vocalist Pink Nasty and other equally talented folks. It’s a thick sound but never overly busy.

Having observed the gestation of these songs live and in various rudimentary studio versions since the band’s inception, I can attest to the strength of the fully realized final product. As potent and engaging as their live sets can be, there’s an equal grab here, a subtle force beyond just another batch of tunes that seizes some buried nerve and makes us moan the “Resurrection Blues” along with ol’ J.L. as the THC-friendly trombone makes us shuffle a newfangled second line.

Available as a gorgeous limited edition CD, Country Hai East Cotton is the sort of album years hence that will be celebrated and held heart-close like recent rediscoveries like Linda Perhacs’ Parallelograms, Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day and other out-of-time, highly unique jewels. The added bonus is this is a contemporary happening, very much alive and ripe for discovery today instead of tomorrow.

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