Homemade Holidays No. 6: Hiss Golden Messenger’s Heart Like a Levee

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Each weekday between now and Christmas, for our series “Homemade Holidays,” we’ll offer one locally made holiday gift idea we love, from clothes and music to beer and art. Got ideas for a gift? Tell us.

Hiss Golden Messenger’s Heart Like a Levee
For: Those considering a move to North Carolina
Price: $7.99–$29.98

Michael Taylor had been in a band before—a few of them, in fact.

When he moved to North Carolina, though, in the summer of 2007, he thought maybe it was time for a change, time to put those childhood fancies behind him. He had a young family, after all, and he was moving to Carolina from California to attend graduate school at UNC–Chapel Hill, not to launch a new project. It was time to move on.

Things didn’t work out that way. The last decade of Taylor’s life has actually been the most successful period of his music career, with his Hiss Golden Messenger earning big international tours and spots on late-night television through a string of records that have rightfully grabbed top spots on year-end lists. His latest, the redeeming folk-rock exploration Heart Like a Levee, is again one of the year’s best—and another confirmation that, sometimes, a major move and a new network is exactly what you need.


While Taylor lives and records in Durham, his success has stemmed, in large part, from a cast of pan-Triangle collaborators. These songs, for instance, were inspired by a set of photographs housed in Duke University’s library and part of a commission from the school itself. But that’s Raleigh’s Matt Douglas adding saxophone throughout and the voice of Raleigh’s Tift Merritt curling beneath Taylor’s in exquisite harmony. Brothers Phil and Bradley Cook—who, like Taylor, moved to Raleigh a decade ago to hit the “Restart” button on band life—are all over the thing. Together, these songs and the band itself are a testament to not only surviving but also moving on and rising up.

In a year when North Carolina’s reputation has taken a lot of hard shots, Heart Like a Levee is a lovable rejoinder, aptly loaded with anthems that suggest getting over what’s getting you down.

Heart Like a Levee is available at area record stores and through Merge Records.

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Grayson Haver Currin
Editor in Chief of the Raleigh Agenda