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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

LITTLE MISS HIGGINS, by James M. Manheim

The show by Little Miss Higgins at the Ark on July 9 stood out from those of other young artists the club has booked lately. It wasn't very well attended; Jolene Higgins is an unknown in these parts, and long warm evenings are rare enough here that what might seem intriguing enough to try at any other time doesn't merit stepping into a dark room in midsummer. And her music was billed as Canadian prairie blues -- certainly an odd enough idea to make you think twice.

But it's also just odd enough to catch on. Higgins' blues are of the storytelling and portrait types -- she cites Big Bill Broonzy (along with another Alberta native, Joni Mitchell) as an influence, but I'd be surprised if she hadn't also studied the records of Sleepy John Estes inside and out. Her dry sense of humor and her way of working incongruous details naturally into the flow of a song are all her own. Ark volunteer Monica suggests that if "Northern Exposure" had been a blues album, it would have come out something like the music of Little Miss Higgins.

Miss Higgins will be back. From Ann Arbor she was headed to Blissfest, a reliable generator of good crowds for folk and roots events around here in subsequent months. Her stage presence is confident enough to draw you into her unique world without your having much say in the matter, and she's well worth checking out if she comes to the Ark again or to another southeastern Michigan venue.


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