We have been flooded with reissues of â€œforgotten psychedelic classicsâ€ in the past few years. Some of them are good, lots of them are fun, and many demonstrate why they were forgotten. Few are classics. Now here comes Drag City, a Chicago label more associated with the current alt-rock scene, surprisingly touting this extremely obscure 1973 psych-folk album by a New England hippie, Gary Higgins. Even more surprisingly, this IS a classic.
So how could the folks at Radioactive have missed it?!? One reason, perhaps, is that the only overtly psychedelic musical touches â€“ really pretty mild â€“ are a few keyboard riffs spiced by Terry Fenton with pitch slides (â€œIt Didnâ€™t Take Too Longâ€) and some creative organ registrations (check out the tinkling notes on â€œStable the Spudsâ€). This is not musicians attempting to duplicate the feeling of a trip; rather, this is words and music made by a psychedelicized folkie: mostly mellow, mostly acoustic music that would be the perfect complement to a number of mind-altering substances. And the music doesnâ€™t sound dated. On the contrary: If some of these tracks (for instance, â€œUnable to Flyâ€ with its arpeggiated acoustic guitar with flute and cello adornments) were on last yearâ€™s Iron and Wine album, the flow would be seamless.
A lot of the music is wistful, even melancholy minor-key meditations on uneasy topics; though Higginsâ€™s poetic sensibility and metaphorical associations sometimes make the specifics hard to pin down, the moods are always as clear as the intricate, gently chiming multiple-guitar filigrees on which the songs often perch. â€œI Canâ€™t Sleep at Nightâ€ is about fear of death reinforced by fear that there wonâ€™t be reincarnation. The absolutely gorgeous â€œI Pick Notes from the Skyâ€ is a free-association meditation that touches on being a musician and a mistreated lover, briefly ponders the concept of property, is baffled by the mind/machine connection, and returns to the catharsis offered by singing.
There is one misstep: Higginsâ€™s Howlinâ€™ Wolf growl and the 5/4 blues groove on â€œDown on the Farmâ€ offer overt variety, but the lyric is a one-note joke thatâ€™s repeated over and over, so the variety comes to seem forced on repeated listens. But beauty quickly resumes with â€œUnable to Fly,â€ and a more welcome change of pace comes on the whimsical â€œLookinâ€™ for June,â€ which also works up a pretty energetic groove at times. Even the two bonus tracks, the 1975 studio effort â€œLast Great Sperm Whaleâ€ and â€œDonâ€™t Ya Know,â€ an early â€˜80s home recording about the deprecation someone of Higginsâ€™s appearance and lifestyle faced, are pretty good.
This sounds like the reissue of the year so far. Hats off to the person at Drag City who dragged this one out of the dustbin of history. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based former editor of Creem Magazine and CDNow.com, editor of the acclaimed MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, and contributor to The Big Takeover, Early Music America, and many other hip periodicals. He is a buyer at Sound Fix, a hot new record store in Williamsburg.