M.C. Taylor is no stranger to alter egos. It could be argued that Hiss Golden Messenger, the name of the loose collective he’s fronted since 2008, is a nom de plume itself. Cloaking his fears and dreams within the confines of the project gives Taylor enough remove from his introspection to get up on stage, a dynamic that's compounded on Jump for Joy. Stepping somewhat outside of himself, Taylor invented the semi-autobiographical character of Michael Crow, an adolescent who soaks up everything the world has to offer and pours it all into his music. The songs that constitute Jump for Joy are either written from Crow'’ perspective or in dialogue with Taylor’s older, wiser narrator.
If this all sounds convoluted, a sentiment Taylor winkingly underscores by opening the album by singing “There’s no such thing as a simple song,” Jump for Joy doesn’t sound complicated. That’s a deliberate decision. Jump for Joy belongs to an emerging class of albums by artists who’ve chosen to embrace positivity after suffering through the pandemic. This wasn’t a straight line for Taylor. He spent most of his previous record, 2021’s Quietly Blowing It, on a voyage inward, reacting to the onset of COVID-19 with an atypical melancholy that he sought to temper with a stronger sense of soulful rhythm.
Jump for Joy picks up on that thread, pushing beats and grooves to the forefront and moving Taylor’s coded confessions to the back burner. Listening to the album without the aid of a lyric sheet, it’d be difficult to discern the concept; the lyrics support the sound and not the other way around. Hiss Golden Messenger always has traded in ambience, incorporating brief bridges of sound between tracks. To a lesser extent, they have also been groove merchants—the band’s 2009 debut, Country Hai East Cotton, had a swampy little number called “Boogie Boogie.” The difference here is that a lot of Jump for Joy actually does boogie and does so proudly.
Take the title track: With its limber New Orleans polyrhythms, it’s a loving salute to jam-rock legends Little Feat. “Jump for Joy” has clear cousins in the thick funk of “Nu-Grape” and “California King,” a blissed-out number whose guitars burble like the Grateful Dead's on “Sugar Magnolia.” Neither song should be interpreted as Taylor reinventing Hiss Golden Messenger as a jam band, though; he’s working once again with bassist Alex Bingham and guitarist Chris Boerner, adding drummer Nick Falk and pianist Sam Fribush to the mix, a group that’s too focused on individual songs to plunge into the deep waters of improvisation. Rather, the loping rhythms are part of the positivity Jump for Joy exudes, a sensibility that also surfaces in the chilled out shimmer of “Jesus Is Bored” and “Shinbone,” a pop number that sounds like a yacht rock relic, glistening with synths and riding a mellow groove.
All the slickness on Jump for Joy can be beguiling. It’s an album that feels less like a roving party than a backyard BBQ, and the music seems designed to fade pleasingly into its surroundings. Such an anodyne approach has its appeal yet it’s strange that a record from a singer/songwriter as ambitious as M.C. Taylor equates optimism with simplicity. His notion of rekindling his initial music-making spark by writing from the stance of a teenager leads him down a path where he punctuates aphorisms like “I saw the new day in the world” with such evocative imagery as “There’s a tangerine moon over Texas, ripe enough to feel it dripping.” Here, it’s possible to hear the tension between Taylor’s craftsmanship and creative conceit; it can occasionally feel as if he’s purposely muting his colorful verbiage. Then again, those open-ended, vaguely corny affirmations match the sunniness of Jump for Joy. They’re the sentiments that suit the smooth sounds he’s laying down.
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