As the early spring sun sank low in Durham on Tuesday night, Michael Taylor glanced up at the crowd pressing close to the makeshift plywood stage at Bull City Records.
“I didn’t really set up a record release show,” admitted Taylor, sitting in the chair he’d toted from his nearby home, “because I kind of don’t like those.”
But in the last few weeks, the excitement for Haw—the album that Taylor’s Hiss Golden Messenger released just yesterday on the label Paradise of Bachelors—has spread in these parts and elsewhere with contagion speed. It seems that most every time I browse social media of late, someone else has fallen in love with the record’s lovingly warped folk-rock firmament. And for good reason: Taylor writes about life with the assurance of a guy who’s lived it hard, and he builds those songs with the enthusiasm of a lifelong music obsessive.
So Taylor did play a record release show Tuesday—a free one, in his adopted hometown, with a whip-smart crew of friends recruited for assistance. Megafaun’s Phil Cook trailed on keys, while his brother, Bradley Cook, joined terrific drummer Terry Lonergan to dig deep into the rhythm. At times, Taylor invited various family members—his brother, Graham, on trumpet; Graham’s wife, Alison, on French horn; his 4-year-old son, Elijah, on unamplified but rigorously tuned second and small guitar—to give many of Haw’s songs the same flesh and vigor they sported in the studio.
By the time Taylor confessed that such shows weren’t his priority, then, he’d already delivered a mighty righteous set for a crowd that flowed far from the little shop’s doors. After nine songs, he said thank you, strode into the gentle giddy-up of Haw closer “What Shall Be (Shall Be Enough),” and rose from his chair.
It was, all told, very likable.