Album Review: Hiss Golden Messenger – School Daze: A Fundraiser for Durham Public Schools Students

If you’ve been missing live music, Hiss Golden Messenger’s latest album may be the perfect antidote. Filled with 8-minute long Dire Straits-esque grooves and anecdotes about Patti Smith and Mission District dive bars, School Daze captures the magic of Hiss Golden Messenger’s iconic live show, hollers and all. And it’s for a good cause! What more could you want?

Opening with their hip-swaying Americana anthem, “O Little Light,” a medley of bright guitar strums, tambourine shakes, thumping bass, and Phill Cook’s vibrant keyboard melodies fill the room. The combination of M.C. Taylor’s charismatic stage presence and the band’s improvisational chemistry makes for an electric live performance.

With slow-building jams like “Jenny of the Roses” and raucous blues grooves like “Rock Holy,” the group builds up an incredible momentum on stage, only to withdraw into moments of quiet introspection in songs “Cracked Windshield” which offers a crushingly honest glimpse into the life of a touring musician, caught between life on the road and his family at home:

“Drifting down the line like the gospel ship
Magnolia ringing all the bells in my head
I can feel October coming on the back-scratch wind
Red weather calling through the cracked windshield
Quite a few have fallen on the path back there
When their mamas come calling it’s the saddest thing”

Following this autobiographical thread, “Down at the Uptown” offers the backstory of how Taylor got started as a musician in the San Francisco music scene, surrounded by a vibrant community of young artists and misfits “learning how to drink.” Although the banter on the record is minimal, Taylor’s smattering of self-deprecating jokes and sly winks at the audience offer a personal touch that makes the record feel even more human and alive.

At one hour and sixteen minutes long, School Daze is a full live music experience that’ll draw you in and get you grooving instantly. Joyful and timeless, the folk collective’s Traveling Wilburys-meets-Barr Brothers swinging rhythms will appeal to all generations. Introspective and heartfelt yet also celebratory and communal, this roaring set of 15 tracks will make you want to drive cross country with the windows rolled down and holler along at the top of your lungs.

I want to end with Taylor’s own words on the cause he’s supporting, because I think it’s incredibly important: “My entire life, I’ve watched the ways that public education has changed the lives of the people involved with it, both students and teachers. It’s safe to say that I wouldn’t do what I do now without the love and support of public school teachers. So I feel it’s my duty to give back. To that end, I’m proud to announce the release of School Daze, a new Hiss Golden Messenger live record to benefit the Durham Public Schools Foundation… Public education is a civil rights issue. Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. Trans lives matter. Vote.”

School Daze: A Fundraiser for Durham Public Schools is now available for streaming and purchase everywhere, and all proceeds will go towards supporting the public schools of Durham, North Carolina.

Gemma Laurence