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Album reviews: Lucy Dacus – Home Video, and Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It

·3-min read
 (Photo courtesy of Matador Records)
(Photo courtesy of Matador Records)

Lucy Dacus – Home Video

★★★★☆

Despite being lumbered with descriptors like “confessional” and “diaristic”, singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus has, ironically, spent most of her career to date writing songs that deliberately avoid the explicitly personal. Her debut, 2016’s No Burden, was about “travelling or having a crush and not wanting to be pigeonholed in one identity”, as she told The Independent in a new interview. Songs on her follow-up, 2018’s Historian, tackled “some of my core beliefs: writer’s block and death and how I handle loss in general”.

Now, on the intimate Home Video, the Richmond, Virginia-born indie-rock hero – who also plays with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers in boygenius – is walking right up to the mirror and engaging in a staring contest with her reflection.

Little is off limits. Much of the source material comes from old journals – Dacus tells us coming-of-age stories about early female friendships that might have developed into something more (seven-minute album closer “Triple Dog Dare”). She recalls tales from Bible camp (“VBS”), her violent inclinations towards a friend’s abusive father (“Thumbs”), and her attempts to reconcile her Christian upbringing with her feelings about sex and sexuality (“Christine”).

Dacus’s warm vocals are as rich and full as ever, between upbeat album singles like “Hot & Heavy” and yearning, piano-driven ballads (“Please Stay”). By offering us such a vibrant look at everything that came before, Dacus easily sets the stage for a sequel. I can’t imagine she’ll have any trouble attracting an audience.

 (The Washington Post via Getty)
(The Washington Post via Getty)

Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It

★★★★☆

MC Taylor was burnt out. Fifteen years since forming folk band Hiss Golden Messenger with Scott Hirsch and after countless tours and 11 albums – including 2016’s critically adored Heart Like a Levee – he stumbled. “I needed the time and space to mourn something, though I wasn’t sure what,” the Hiss Golden Messenger frontman writes in “Mourning in America”, the accompanying essay for the band’s latest, deeply affecting album.

Quietly Blowing It was written as Taylor looked out over his backyard in Durham, North Carolina. His music has always roused thoughts of home, whether torn between there and the road (2015’s “Mahogany Dread”), or the tributes paid on 2013’s Haw, named after the North Carolina river. These songs venture outside of the insular comforts that the traditionally warm instrumentation provides. Taylor has a revived sense of purpose.

Taylor cites Seventies funk pioneer Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On as an album that “bears perfect witness to the unrest that comes with unrelenting change”. So while Quietly Blowing It feels as personal as ever, Taylor is scrutinising his surroundings, too. The squelchy riffs on “Mighty Dollar” nod to the poor-man blues of Casey Bill Weldon or Bessie Smith; gospel keys on “It Will If We Let It”, along with Taylor’s crooning delivery, have something – however subdued – of The Staple Singers’ 1972 classic “I’ll Take You There”. Quietly Blowing It feels like the first steps into bold new territory.

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