Across the Plains
The third studio album by Canadian country-blues artist Little Miss Higgins was recorded in Winnipeg on analogue equipment and features 10 originals all delivered in a sassy, sensual style that references the likes of Billie Holiday and Big Bill Broonzy, whom she cites as musical influences. Furthermore, there are shades of vaudeville theatre, the result, no doubt, of her drama school upbringing.
“Beautiful Sun” commences affairs with undeniable theatricality. A cool bar-room shuffle is underpinned by Bourbon Street-style backing that propels affairs along until a funky clarinet is introduced to add a touch of wildness to the up-tempo francophone ending. Throughout the opener, Little Miss Higgins sings in a clean vibrato vocal that manages at once to be both innocent and sultry.
“The Tornado Song” is an upbeat jazzy shuffle replete with rustic lyricism, cool harmonies and a Lightnin’ Hopkins-esque solo that recalls a sound akin to that of what must have been heard on the Chitlin’ Circuit back in the day. “Bargain Shop Panties” is a humorous number that owes more than a little to the Hank Williams song “Move it on over”. The baritone sax solo at the end of it is sublime and – as is the case in all the songs on offer – evidences a superior degree of musicianship.
The standout track is undoubtedly “Wash These Blues Away”. A technicolour jazz age artefact, you could imagine it on Jay Gatsby’s lawn gracing endless summer nights of Great Neck opulence. It is instantly familiar.
There are many great things to say about this album. The use of both English and French give it a distinct flavour absent from most contemporary country blues albums and it tends to be the songs upon which Little Miss Higgins writes bilingually, or at least incorporates a French flavour, that are the most atmospheric. “Glad Your Whiskey Fits Inside my Purse” is a prime example. The first minute and a half of the song is sung in a tremendous Edith Piaf-like timbre.
Elsewhere, however, the album tends to slip too comfortably into a pleasant but ultimately unfulfilling jazz-blues shuffle. The lead vocal starts off full of character but begins to grate on a series of overly long songs that, unfortunately, do not exhibit a whole host of new ideas. Across the Plains will doubtless strike a chord with country-blues fans, but it’s unlikely to win too many converts among the uninitiated.