Review: Little Miss Higgins – Across the Plains
Posted on: Monday, Jun 27, 2011
Little Miss Higgins
“Across the Plains”
Little Miss Higgins Music (LMHCD004)
From the windswept plains of Saskatchewan, Canada comes this contender for one of the bluesinthenorthwest.com top five CDs of the year. The moment that I read her influences I knew that this was not going to be another cookie cutter guitar slinger release. Citing Memphis Minnie, Billy Holiday, Big Bill Broonzy, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton and Bob Dylan this is certainly a heady brew of old time, jazzy, bluesy, country-folk, written and performed by the classically trained Little Miss Higgins (real name Jolene Higgins) with some stellar backing – featuring, at times, banjo, harmonica, acoustic bass, percussion, mandolin and a superb old-time horn section.
Higgins, born in Alberta Canada and raised in Kansas, USA carries the American traditions of the singer, songwriter: she is influenced by the styles of the past and writes about the moments and scenes from her life and her surroundings in the mid-continental flatlands.
The CD kicks off with “Beautiful Sun” a trad jazz flavoured tribute to the spring that awakens the plains after the long hard winters – the song even featuring a verse in French. “The Tornado Song” is a loping vaudeville shuffle with New Orleans brass describing the effects of the storms.
“Bargain Shop Panties” shows how difficult it can be to live in a tiny rural Saskatchewan town, she has to travel the nearest larger town to buy undergarments. Certainly a crowd pleaser – imagine the call and response “Bargain Shop Panties” from the crowd.
“Gather My Fruit” is a prison chain gang chant – with an evocative bare vocal and percussive backing.
I’m not sure that the 78rpm vinyl effect used on the intro for “Glad Your Whiskey Fits Inside My Purse” works – for me it detracts from the gorgeous qualities in Higgins’ voice. However the situation is redeemed by the fake needle jump and the lively trad jazz, banjo and whistled jolliness of the main song.
The highlights for me are “My Love” a fearless lyric and a fearless vocal performance in a simple love song. Higgins’ soaring vocal is held down to earth with a very simple tremolo guitar accompaniment. So restrained but yet so wild. My other favourite “Slaughterhouse (Revisited)” also features the tremelo guitar but this time in a super-tough bluesy setting with beautiful mandolin – blood flowing like a velvet evening gown – stunning! Two great solos on this one too. What an ending to a great record.
I have to admit that after many outings for this CD, I am just a little bit in love with Little Miss Higgins – there is something so seductive and powerful in that voice. I think that it’s the pure emotion in her performance that gets straight to the heart.
Highly recommended! With acclaim from the blues world and the folk and country worlds, this is a release that defies categorisation and should be checked out. If Higgins’ sulty jazz tinged vocals don’t grab you then you need to speak to the doctor.