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Gary Higgins - A Dream A While Back

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Artist: Gary Higgins

Album: A Dream A While Back

Label: Drag City

Review date: Mar. 21, 2011

In 2005, Drag City reissued Gary Higgins’s Red Hash, a psychedelic-folk album first released in 1973 on Higgins’s Nufusmoon label. In the yearly tumble of unearthed “lost classics,” Red Hash was a fine find; a nuanced, often melancholic album with the sort of late-afternoon-buzz feel suggested by the title. Trumpeted by Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny, who assisted with the reissue, the album warmed to both critics and listeners, receiving its deserved acclaim decades late.

Now, Drag City has dug into Higgins’s pre-Red Hash archives for A Dream A While Back. The six-track, 24-minute collection is teasingly brief, but allows for a glimpse of Higgins maneuvering through the process of finding his artistic voice. The tracks were recorded in 1970-71 and feature Higgins accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. This is as intimate as a recording gets, and can at times inspire in the listener the feeling that he is eavesdropping on a late-night session, where Higgins, with guitar, pen and notepad, works through his compositions.

Though recorded in such a joyously personal way, the songs here, unlike a majority of those found on Red Hash, are rarely memorable. Higgins clearly lends great deals of time to his songwriting — even simple verse-chorus-verse tracks tend to exhibit deft wordplay, wit and great attention to the song’s narrative. On A Dream A While Back, those tendencies are on display, and yet, there isn’t one song here destined to grace many “most played” playlists. The album’s run is soothing, with Higgins’ picked acoustic and dry vocals, but without serious attention fades upon each listen into pleasant, if bland, background music. It’s folk music for Sunday mornings where the hangover is blaring in a way that can’t coexist with music that makes one think or feel.

Thankfully, it’s not that the album’s only benefit is that of hangover relief. There are moments on A Dream A While Back that hint at the great talent that would later be revealed. “Song To Springtime” mines the same strain of sad-eyed psych-bleakness that Bobb Trimble perfected on Harvest of Dreams. “Waiting For You” sounds at times like a John Lennon fragment: The Beatles never would have touched it, but it’s interesting to imagine what Higgins would have made of the track given a proper studio budget.

For those who count Red Hash as one of the most transporting examples of its genre, A Dream A While Back is entertaining enough. Hearing Higgins recorded so simply can be starkly beautiful. Yet, anyone contemplating picking up a copy should be reminded there’s another, far better record that should be heard first.

By Ethan Covey

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