Saturday, September 18, 2010
Little Miss Higgins -- Across the Plains
Across the Plains
Little Miss Higgins
Reviewing Junction City, an earlier album by Little Miss Higgins – Jolene Higgins off stage – in Sing Out! Magazine, I said she was my favourite new discovery of 2007. She released a live album in 2009 (which I’ve not heard) and is now back with Across the Plains, a terrific new studio album on which her new songs, and often tongue-in-cheek approach, make rooted blues styles, from Dixieland to Chicago, sound fresher than anything you’ll hear on commercial radio in the 21st century.
As I mentioned in that Sing Out! review, “Higgins grew up in Alberta and Kansas, did theatre training in British Columbia and now makes her home in Nokomis, Saskatchewan, a small prairie town on the old Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railroad lines. Maybe it’s the echo of those trains passing through town that inspires her to create music steeped in the traditions of such blues artists as Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie and Big Bill Broonzy.”
The album opens with “Beautiful Sun,” a glorious, upbeat song that marries lyrics that pay tribute to the northern prairie sun to an arrangement that’s straight out of Preservation Hall.
Nine songs later, the album ends with “Slaughterhouse,” whose lyrics are set on the outskirts of a small prairie town but whose arrangement could be played in a blues bar on the south side of Chicago.
Many of the other songs are lyrically rooted on the prairies. Among them are “The Tornado Song,” an infectious stomp about the effect of tornadoes on how the little miss’s garden grows; “Bargain Shop Panties,” a hilarious spoof about buying underwear in a Quonset hut shop off Main Street that features some great riffing and solos from her most excellent studio band; and “Snowin’ Today: A Lament for Louis Riel,” a song that moves from weather observation to a remembrance of the Métis leader hanged in 1885.
Other highlights include the swinging “Wash These Blues Away” and “Glad Your Whiskey Fits Inside My Purse,” a humourous tune about some Yukon boys looking to get drunk in Memphis that starts out in lo-fi like an old 78 before jumping back into the modern era (by modern, I mean the sound quality).
Although Across the Plains is not a jug band album, it reminds of the same kind of fun I have listening to the best jug band music.
Little Miss Higgins performs in this part of Canada this coming week:
Thursday, September 23 – The Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield.
Friday, September 24 – Upstairs in Montreal.
Saturday, September 25 – The Dakota Tavern in Toronto.
Sunday, September 26 – The London Music Club in London.